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Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4302

EVERYONE LIVES DOWNSTREAM: Water-Quality Issues Related to Urban Development of the upper Chattahoochee River Watershed

Daniel J. Hippe, Caryl J. Wipperfurth, Evelyn A. Hopkins, Elizabeth A. Frick, and David J. Wangsness


Rapid growth in Metropolitan Atlanta is transforming the headwaters of many watersheds in Georgia from forests and pastures to suburban and urban land. This transformation includes the upper Chattahoochee River watershed that provides the area with drinking water and many outdoor recreational opportunities. From the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico, EVERYONE LIVES DOWNSTREAM. What effect has the expansion of Metropolitan Atlanta had on rivers and streams, and what challenges lie before us in managing our water resources?

The growth of Metropolitan Atlanta has had a wide range of effects on the water resources in the upper Chattahoochee River watershed. This poster summarizes water-quality issues related to urban development of the watershed. The continuing spread of the metropolitan area has begun a cycle of land disturbance with associated erosion and sedimentation that last occurred during periods of widespread logging, cotton cultivation, and hydraulic mining in the area. Increased storm runoff from roofs, roads, driveways, and parking lots has a wide range of effects on the upper Chattahoochee River and tributaries that supply drinking water.

Municipalities are spending large amounts of money to expand and upgrade sewer systems, sewage-treatment facilities, and systems that supply drinking water to meet the demands of the growing population and the more stringent Federal and State environmental regulations. However, as water quality from point sources in the metropolitan area improves, assessments indicate the growing importance of nonpoint sources of contaminants in and downstream of the metropolitan area. State monitoring programs show widespread impairment of streams in the metropolitan area, primarily from bacteria and toxic metals present in urban runoff. A water-quality assessment of the Chattahoochee watershed conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey shows numerous pesticides are present in streams within the metropolitan area. Traces of toxic chemicals, though now banned from use, persist in area streams and fish, and thus, pose a continued threat to aquatic and human health.

The long-term challenge for managing the water resources in the upper Chattahoochee River watershed is to minimize nonpoint-source contamination in the Atlanta Metropolitan area.

First posted February 5, 2010

This publication is a poster.

To obtain a copy of the full report, you may call the U.S. Geological Survey office in Atlanta at (770) 903-9100, or send e-mail to

For additional information contact:
Director, Georgia Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
3039 Amwiler Rd.
Suite 130

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