Columbia County is losing one of its most passionate environmental activists.
Dr. John Graham is stepping away from the county's Adopt-A-Stream program after spending more than six years as its volunteer coordinator.
"I think it is going to be a loss to the county," said Robin Reardon, who has volunteered with Graham for two years and called him a "true leader." "For someone who isn't getting paid, he's very passionate. ... He will be (missed). He does so much stuff. He leads the fight."
Graham, who has been active in the program since his 2002 retirement from computer programming, is moving to Charlottesville, Va., next month to be closer to family.
"I'm definitely (leaving) it in capable hands, no doubt about it," said Graham, adding that his coordinator duties will be left to numerous certified trainers with some help from the county's Keep Columbia County Beautiful program.
"Up until the moment I'm (gone), I'll be heavily involved with getting other things done and out of the way. ... There's just so many different things going on and you end up with six different things going on at once and you figure out which one now to deal with today. And that's typical of this kind of program."
Graham, who has a doctorate in entomology, took over as volunteer coordinator of the program in 2002 when, he said, there was no strong and effective Adopt-A-Stream program in place. Graham said he spent 25 to 40 hours each week in the early days working to get the program going strong. Under his leadership, the program evolved into a "local action" kind of program, he said.
Adopt-A-Stream volunteers team up to perform tests at seven creek sites around the county, including some on Reed Creek, Jones Creek, Euchee Creek and two of its tributaries -- Mill Branch and Crawford Creek.
The group performs monthly chemical tests and biological tests, plus visual surveys every three months. Data from these and other tests and observations are sent to the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Sam Booher, who is a certified trainer and involved in the local and state Adopt-A-Stream programs.
"So what EPD is doing is using us to develop a baseline for all the streams in the state with the idea that over a period of time, we can see if there is a change in the quality of the water in the state," Booher said, adding that Graham will be missed.
Through regular testing, Booher said, Graham detected a change in the bacteria level at a Mill Branch site and informed county officials, who located a nearby sewage leak.
An important part of the Adopt-A-Stream program is supplementing where county departments may not have the training, manpower or funding to detect or treat problems.
"We go and do things they aren't programmed to do," Graham said. "What we do is discover some things that are not in their regular line of work and we call attention to it.
"We're partners, not adversaries. But sometimes partners do quarrel. ... We work for the county's best interests in all cases, and they do too."
Graham was honored by the state Adopt-A-Stream program in February as its 2008 Volunteer of the Year.
"He does an awful lot. He works tirelessly," said Ray Sprankle, one of the certified trainers who'll be accepting some of Graham's duties. "He'll be missed, that's for sure."
Graham said he sees the county program headed in a new direction, which includes not only taking water samples and recording data, but doing something about potential problems such as adding naturalized buffers along stream banks to prevent erosion.
"Right now, we're looking to do new directions, new efforts, not just collecting water samples," Graham said. "But going one step further with the data that we have, setting up buffer vegetation, more terracing and getting more communicating with the public."
Graham's move was prompted by a desire to be closer to his daughter and two of his four grandchildren.
Since he wants to spend time with his grandchildren, Graham said he isn't sure if he'll get involved in the Charlottesville Adopt-A-Stream program. He said he can easily stay interested in a square inch of earth all day. But he'd also like to restart a computer survey program he created and complete several entomological studies.
"There's so much (information) you can get, (there's) just not enough time in my life. But I'm going to try," Graham said. "The better thing for me now, beyond management, is to maybe make these special studies and then maybe contribute the studies to the next generation of people who will then follow through on it."
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Columbia County Adopt-A-Stream can visit http://columbiacountyaas.spaces.live.com.
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