Newton County has received a $300,000 grant - the Alcovy River Riparian Buffer Grant - from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division.
"Riparian is simply a word that means along a stream," said Karl Kelley, director of the Newton County Water Resources Department.
The grant money will go toward acquiring easements along the Alcovy River - the county's main source of drinking water - in hopes a protective land buffer will decrease or prevent water pollution.
"The reason we want to have control over that is that it is the last filter of storm water runoff that goes into the river," Kelley said.
County engineer Kevin Walter said his department has worked on the grant for a couple of years because the federal funds must be matched with $200,000 of county money or in-kind services. He said despite the many man hours logged on the project and the many more to come, the final outcome will be well worth the work.
"The best way of protecting rivers is not allowing impervious land uses along the corridor of the river," Walter said.
Cheryl Delk, special projects coordinator for Newton County, said it was unusual for the Georgia EPD to give grants for the purpose of buying land.
"Typically, these 319 grants are more for hydrological modeling and studying the watershed," Delk said.
Section 319 of the 1977 Clean Water Act established the reimbursement grant program to support a variety of activities which diminish nonpoint source pollution.
"It's a two prong initiative, one of which is education about nonpoint source pollution," Delk said, "which is a big word for all the other things, other than obvious sources such as industries dumping, such as fecal matter from farms and sediment from other areas flowing through."
Nonpoint source pollution comes from diffuse sources such as those mentioned by Delk and things such as storm water runoff and snowmelt containing fertilizers, pesticides and oil rather than direct disposal from industrial or sewage treatment plants.
The second prong of the grant is the purchase of land - permanent easements - along the Alcovy River
"Our goal is to protect the whole Alcovy River, but this particular project is focusing on the central and northern parts because there are already some protected areas there through the Georgia Wildlife Federation," Delk said. "The idea is to work on connecting the dots and have contiguous protection and also to create a wildlife corridor."
Walter said the area the county wishes to protect stretches across five miles of river banks.
The current county ordinance regarding stream buffers is 150-feet.
"We have good buffer ordinances, but we know they can change," Delk said.
By purchasing land along the river, the county can ensure developers will not build any closer to the river than they can now.
Kelley said this is extremely important, especially as the county's population continues to boom.
"If you're an upstream property owner, you can't stop water from going down stream and likewise you can't clog up water coming from upstream," Kelley said.
He added less polluted water will save county taxpayers money.
"It costs us more to treat it if it's silt laden," Kelley said, "and silt carries pollution in it."
After the Rivers Alive Cleanup yesterday, Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful hosted a luncheon for those interested in joining a grant advisory board. KCNB is charged with the educational components of the grant, including creating a regularly meeting advisory committee.
Delk encouraged anyone who is interested in joined the committee to call her office at (678) 625-1235.