Georgia Rare Species and Natural Community Data

High Priority Waters

High priority waters for protecting aquatic biodiversity were identified as part of a larger effort to develop a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy for Georgia. YYou can learn more about this strategy, also known as Georgia's Wildlife Action Plan, by clicking here.

Below you can download a high priority waters map as well as an Excel spreadsheet that contains all 212 high priority waters in the state.  If you zoom in on the map, you will find a site ID number that corresponds to additional information in the spreadsheet. GIS users can download three GIS ESRI shapefiles, showing high priority streams, high priority coastal waters, and high priority watersheds.  The coordinate system of these files is geographic (also know as latitude/longitude or unprojected). The datum is NAD 83. If you need more specific information about high priority waters, please contact the Nongame Conservation Section, Social Circle office (Phone: 706-557-3032).

How Were High Priority Waters Selected?

High priority waters were selected to protect important populations of high priority species and also to protect or restore representative aquatic systems throughout the state. We used three different sources of information to identify high priority waters. First, as part of our effort to develop a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, we asked experts to identify streams containing the most important populations of high priority species. Next we selected all streams within TNC priority conservation areas (Smith et al. 2002). These conservation areas were selected to protect occurrences of rare aquatic species and also to protect high-quality aquatic systems. As in this assessment, TNC identified important populations of rare species using expert opinion. Aquatic systems were delineated by classifying stream segments according to major physiochemical parameters (e.g., elevation, geology, stream size) and then identifying all distinct combinations of these parameters (e.g, small, moderate-elevation streams in sandstone bedrock geology represents one aquatic system type). After these systems were delineated, TNC asked experts to identify the most viable representatives of each of these systems for inclusion in TNC conservation areas. TNC delineated conservation areas in the Mobile, Tennessee, and the South Atlantic Basins of Georgia, but not within the Gulf Slope Basin or South Atlantic drainages south of the Altamaha. Finally, we examined Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) scores for sites sampled by the Georgia DNR Stream Survey Team. The IBI is a multimetric index that is designed to assess the ecological integrity of a site based upon attributes of the fish community. Streams with sites receiving an excellent IBI score (the highest integrity class) were selected as high priority streams. Like TNCs data, the stream team data set covers most but not all of the state. When high priority streams were identified in 2003 and 2004, they had not yet scored any sites in the Blue Ridge or Southern Coastal Plain ecoregions and had not completed sampling within all drainages of the Southeastern Plains ecoregion.

After the initial list of high priority waters was compiled, we sought and received extensive feedback from aquatic biologists, resource professionals, and other stakeholders to help us improve the high priority waters list. We compiled comments on specific restoration needs, preservation needs, and threats to each high priority water. We asked reviewers to consider streams that should be a focus for conservation efforts during the next 5-10 years.   Streams that were considered too degraded to be considered a high priority for restoration, preservation, or other conservation activities within this time period were dropped from the list. Reviewers added streams that were considered important to the conservation of aquatic biodiversity in Georgia. These streams were selected because they contained important populations of anadromous fishes (e.g., atlantic sturgeon), rare habitats (e.g., springs), or represented the least disturbed aquatic system within the region. We were more liberal in adding streams from the Southern Coastal Plain and Southeastern Plains ecoregions because of gaps in the data sets that were used to identify the initial list of high priority waters. Finally, following the suggestions of reviewers, we added all riverine-tidal, estuarine, and state marine waters to the list because of their importance for high priority coastal species (e.g., shortnose sturgeon, manatee, sea turtles, etc.).

Smith, R.K., P.L. Freeman, J.V. Higgins, K.S. Wheaton, T.W. FitzHugh, K.J. Ernstrom, A.A. Das. 2002. Priority areas for freshwater conservation action: a biodiversity assessment of the southeastern United States. The Nature Conservancy.

High Priority Watersheds

Although there are many conservation actions that focus on individual stream reaches, protecting and restoring high priority waters requires a watershed-level focus. To emphasize the importance of watershed-level conservation efforts, we delineated all of the small watersheds (USGS HUC 12) that contained high priority stream reaches or contained tributaries that fed directly into high priority streams.

Conservation Efforts for High Priority Streams and Watersheds

High priority waters and their surrounding watersheds are a high priority for a broad array of conservation activities, which include at least one of the following: watershed-level protection efforts, restoration activities, reforestation of banks and riparian areas with native vegetation, exclusion of livestock, maintenance or restoration of natural flow and temperature regimes, protection of surrounding lands through conservation easements or land acquisition, and development of physical and biological monitoring programs.

Its important to realize, however, that the high priority waters list is only a starting point to guide conservation efforts. Additional information on land cover, landuse change, nearness to existing protected areas, water quality, location of impoundments and other factors should also be considered when defining conservation priorities. We also strongly emphasize that this list should not be used to justify the degradation of streams not designated high priority in this assessment. Foremost, many of these "non high-priority" waters may be added to the list in the future as new information becomes available. Similarly, because of the inherent connectivity in aquatic and coastal ecosystems, degradation of one system may impact another.

Will The High Priority Waters List Be Updated?

The high prioriy waters list will be revised in conjunction with revisions to Georgia's Wildlife Action Plan. The next revision is tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2011 and be completed in 2013.  This revision process is necessary because of continual improvements in the analytical techniques and data available for identifying conservation priorities.

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