Quick Facts about the River
- The Altamaha River, formed by the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers, is the largest free-flowing river on the East Coast. The river is 137 miles long and runs from central Georgia to the southeastern coast of the state.
- The Altamaha watershed drains about ¼ of the state of Georgia, making it one of the three largest river basins on the Atlantic Seaboard.
- The Altamaha was declared the 7th most endangered river in the United States in 2002 due to the loss of water flow that has resulted from reservoirs and power plants along the shoreline.
- Due to the unique character and rich natural diversity of the Altamaha River, the Nature Conservancy has identified the river as one of “America’s Last Great Places” and has established the Altamaha Bioreserve.
- The Nature Conservancy of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are working together to protect several thousand acres of unique longleaf pine forest and Altamaha River bottomlands. For example, Moody Swamp is an area rich in species diversity and includes many 300-year-old trees and several threatened wildlife species.
- The Altamaha River supports the largest concentration of rare species of any river in Georgia.
- There are 11 endangered mussel species and over 120 species of rare or endangered plants or animals in the Altamaha basin. Seven of these mussel species are found nowhere else in the world.
- The Altamaha River is the source of one of the most mysterious plant species ever found in North America, the Franklinia alatamaha, or the Franklin tree. The species is a tree in the tea family. Franklinia, the only representative of its genus, disappeared from the wild some time before the early nineteenth century (it was last sighted in nature in 1803).
The Altamaha River supports thermoelectric power (coal and nuclear), livestock use, irrigation, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, hydroelectric power, and more.
- Agricultural Uses
- As of 2018, the EPD had issued 1,225 agricultural water withdrawal permits in the Altamaha River Basin.
- Energy Uses
- Southern Nuclear Operating Company operates the 1,759-megawatt Plant Hatch, a nuclear power plant located on the southern bank of the Altamaha River in Appling County.
- Municipal and Industrial Uses
- NPDES Discharges
- As of 2018, there are approximately 37 facilities, including industries and municipalities, authorized to discharge wastewater into the Altamaha River Basin pursuant to NPDES permits.
- About a third of Georgia’s commercial and recreational fisheries are based in the basin. However, the effects of lower river flows and increasing salinity in the estuary already have taken their toll and the value of the catch has fallen considerably in recent years.
- The Altamaha River Basin does not have any dams built along its main stem.
- NPDES Discharges
Agriculture dominates the landscape in the Altamaha River Basin.
- Botanical oddities attract naturalists, who know the legend of the Franklinia alatamaha, a flowering tree that was identified and collected by 18th-century naturalist Bartram and never seen in the area again.
- In 1972, the state acquired the 6,177-acre Big Hammock Natural Area and the 5,633-acre Lewis Island Natural Area, which consists mainly of bottomland hardwoods and sloughs, and an 800-acre sandhill community that supports the largest population of the Georgia plume. Lewis Island Natural Area contains virgin cypress tidewater forest, with Georgia’s oldest trees.
- Barrington County Park provides access to the river and a beautiful setting for picnicking, camping, or fishing on the Altamaha River near a historic colonial fort.
- The 27,078-acre Altamaha Wildlife Management Area/Altamaha River Waterfowl Area (ARWA) is the second largest waterfowl area east of the Mississippi (the largest being the Chesapeake Bay), and is visited by more than 30,000 ducks from mid-October through mid-April. For more information, visit https://www.georgiawildlife.com/node/1406.
- Wolf Island National Refuge is a three-island wildlife refuge in the mouth of the Altamaha River, and consists mainly of salt marsh that provides critical sanctuary for rare migrating birds. For more information, visit https://www.fws.gov/wolfisland/.
- Water Trail: The Altamaha Canoe Trail offers 138 miles of trail, originating near Lumber City at the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. For more information, visit https://www.garivers.org/arct.html.
- 305(b)/303(d) Listings: In the Altamaha River Basin, there are approximately 35 rivers and streams listed on the 2012 integrated 305(b)/303(d) list as waters not supporting their designated uses. These impaired waters include roughly 523 miles of streams and tributaries in the Altamaha River Basin.
- Fish Consumption Advisories: View EPD’s “Guidelines for Eating Fish from Georgia’s Waters” online: https://epd.georgia.gov/fish-consumption-guidelines
- 65 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous geological period, the now lower reaches of the Altamaha River were below the sea. The marine waters gradually receded during the Eocene epoch (55-38 million years ago), so that millions of years later the freshwater followed natural courses from the Georgia uplands to the Atlantic Ocean, ultimately forming the river systems we know today.
- The Altamaha River marked the western border of the Colony of Georgia prior to the American Revolution and, thus, the western border of the English settlement in North America.
- The ruins of more than 1,000 Native American sites along the river are evidence of how important the river was to Native Americans, who relied on it for food and transportation.