Guardian of the South River
Jacqueline “Jackie” Echols: Board President of the South River Watershed Alliance
Rivers are a crucial part of any ecosystem. Unfortunately, more rivers and waterways are becoming polluted due to a lack of protection. Dr. Jacqueline Echols, Board President of the South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA), understands that all too well. She and the SRWA staff/volunteers have dedicated their work to making sure that the South River is properly protected. Echols has spent the past 12 years, even beyond her “retirement” and completely pro bono, to make sure this waterway, which flows through Fulton, DeKalb, Rockdale, and Henry Counties, is able to stay clean while encouraging sustainable use and public recreation to maintain its relevance for conservation. Her hard work and dedicated attitude help the public to focus on cleaning up the South River. Removing harmful materials and waste and keeping the river open for recreation and the enjoyment of the surrounding communities is her goal. “We do testing, we do advocacy, we do cleanups, we do all of what’s necessary to make the South River the jewel that it is for the folks who live near the river and who will benefit from a cleaner, healthier South River,” said Echols.
Life Long Outdoors-Woman
Jackie Echols grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama. She spent her childhood in nature and loved fishing and swimming in local creeks and rivers. After graduating from college, she ended up in Atlanta where she attended graduate school and received her doctorate in 1999. She first got involved in conservation with work relating to a federal consent decree between the Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Atlanta, which aimed to improve Atlanta’s sewer system. At the time, all 19 miles of the sewer system combined storm and wastewater together, which caused pollution. Together with other environmentalists, Echols was able to help separate half of the city’s sewer system. In 2023, only 9 miles remain combined.
South River Watershed Alliance
Echols’ first roles as part of the South River Watershed Alliance were promoting restoration projects over the weekends and working to reduce pollution in the river through a consent decree between the EPA and DeKalb County. She became the board president in 2011 and worked in the position until 2018. However, she still works for the South River Watershed Alliance past her retirement as a full time “volunteer.”
One of Echols’ main roles over the years has been to promote and encourage consistent recreation on the South River to keep it in the conservation spotlight. “A lot of people who live near the river didn’t know that the river was there,” said Echols. The alliance hosts recreational programs, such as Beyond the Bridge with kayaking and canoeing outings on the South River water trail. Echols has also been involved in developing better access to the river to allow for entry and exit, as well as ADA accessibility for disabled individuals. Together with the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, Echols and the South River Watershed Alliance have worked hard to advertise the river and ensure grants and funding for the conservation efforts, which has resulted in mutual benefit as it has helped both alliances advance overlapping conservation efforts. “Over time, that improvement should be reflected in the value placed on the community as well because the environment and the community go hand in hand,” said Echols.
Recreation is the key
When asked how members of the community can help, Echols provided quite a few options. “Volunteer, get out and see it,” she said. “Folks who want more of an experience can get involved with our Rivers Alive effort where we actually get in the river and pull dumped tires out. Recreation is key and helping to restore the river is also key.” She also emphasized the importance of funding.
Donations to the effort can be made on southriverga.org.