A retired ophthalmologist has been testing the waters of local creeks more than 10 years for a water-monitoring program with his sights set particularly on the health of one of the area’s smaller creeks, a Coosa tributary.
Dr. Joseph Scanlan, 80, said he travels to Sofkahatchee Creek from his Pike Road home once a month to test the chemical makeup of its waters and documents its physical condition.
The Alabama Department of Conservation lists the creek as the only marine habitat off the Coosa River for the stippled studfish, or the fundulus bifax. It says the species is native and restricted to the Mobile River Basin, with others found in the Tallapoosa River.
A species of killifish, the stippled studfish is largely classified as near threatened due to population scarcity and decline in habitat quality by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN.
Auburn University Water Resources Center also lists the species as imperiled due to its rarity and Alabama Water Watch states it can also be observed in the neighboring Lake Martin area in Hillabee Creek.
Incidentally, Hillabee Creek is the location of the new Sabal Trail Pipeline transporting natural gas from stations in Tallapoosa County to Orlando, Florida.
The fish has literally put the small creek in the Wallsboro Community area on the maps of researchers who name the Sofkahatchee Creek tributary explicitly as the sole Coosa River location where the fish can is found.
Scanlan said, throughout his years of testing, the creek has maintained positive water quality results.
“It’s a nice small creek and it’s a good one,” said Scanlan.
His main concern however has been what appears to be dumping at the creek.
“Every time I go up there I say a little prayer that it wont be trashed,” Scanlan said. “It’s a common dumping site for folk … I can sit here and tell you a long list of things I’ve found in that creek you wouldn’t believe. Just plain ol’ garbage.”
Scanlan has taken pictures of the creek, documenting the littering of its shores and waters, some of which date back to 2006.
“It’s just a neglected area,” Scanlan said. “It just makes me sick to see this happening.”
Car batteries, a complete welding kit, radios, “lots of dead items,” mattresses and chairs are among the refuse Scanlan said he has come across.
He said in one of his latest visits he and his wife saw three TVs, one of which was in the creek.
“You throw your trash in there and you get a big rain and you come back, the trash is gone,” Scanlan said. “This must be a wonderful trash area.”
He said he would like to see an effort from a civic organization to help clean the creek, and remove some of the debris.
“If we could get the Boy Scouts to get involved, that would be wonderful,” Scanlan said. “But I think the public really needs to know what s going on up there.”
“Up there” is a drive north on Old U.S. Highway 231, a right turn onto Weoka Road, a right turn onto Grier and a left onto Nobles until it turns to dirt and gravel.
Walking down to the creek bed, many of the items Scanlan mentioned can be seen, like glass fragments, metal scraps, some clothing and general litter.
Back past the muddy banks are pebble lined shores and a sandy creek bed with the Sofkahatchee’s clear waters flowing under the bridge, unimpeded but for a large collection of downed trees and underbrush apparently swept downstream accumulating at the bridge.
He said he has reached out to both local and federal government entities to discuss its removal, but with little results minus one instance in which he said help came from the Army Corps of Engineers.
A way Elmore County works to keep trash in the dump and assist residents discarding larger items unfit for typical trashcans is through its Countywide Cleanup Days.
It holds these cleanup days at six sites on the second Saturday each month, according to information found on its website.
“Elmore County residents are invited to bring household and lawn trash to any of the cleanup sites listed below,” it states. “All tree limbs must be no longer than four feet and no more than six inches in diameter. Items that will not be accepted include appliances, batteries, paints or thinners, oils and gases.”
The next cleanup day is scheduled Saturday July 15 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at five locations: Central Elmore Water and Sewer Authority Redland Facility, Elmore County Judicial Complex, Emerald Mountain Equestrian Center, Holtville High School and at the Old Highway Department in Kent.