The Nancy Creek Challenge
J.Bland, S. Carter, S. Mattox, and T. McCrary

A Module for Investigative Case Based Learning in the Classroom



This unit will be used in Environmental Science unit of Biology, the Water Pollution unit in Ecology and Chemistry. In this unit students will examine a case study of fish kill in Nancy Creek and identify the environmental conditions that favor life in a fresh water ecosystem.



Article 1: Officials say chlorine killed 15,000 area fish
Alfred Charles - Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Tuesday, July 11, 2000

State environmental officials said Monday that chlorine was the contaminant that killed up to 15,000 fish last week in the Nancy Creek watershed.

Although state Environmental Protection Division administrators won't be able to conclusively identify where the chlorine came from until later this week, they said it is possible that the chemical may have originated from two different sources.

"We're in the process of figuring out where the discharge came from," said Vince Dollard, an EPD spokesman. "This was a serious fish kill."

Thousands of dead fish were found last week along the 18-mile length of Nancy Creek, which stretches from the Chamblee-Dunwoody area in DeKalb County to the Chattahoochee River in Fulton County.

State environmental authorities said enforcement action is likely once they determine the source of the chlorine, which they suspect was discharged from DeKalb's water plant on Winters Chapel Road in Doraville and a nearby swimming pool.

DeKalb officials have denied that their treatment plant released the large levels of chlorine that would lead to the fish kill. They point to environmental tests they conducted in the days after the fish kill that found only a trace of chlorine.

Article 2: Officials probe massive Nancy Creek fish kill
Alfred Charles - Atlanta-Journal Constitution
Saturday, July 8, 2000

State environmental officials are trying to determine what caused a catastrophic fish kill this week in the Nancy Creek watershed.

In what experts are calling one of the worst kills in metro Atlanta history, thousands of dead fish have been spotted along the 18-mile length of the creek from where it begins in the Chamblee/Dunwoody area in DeKalb County down to where it joins the Chattahoochee River in Fulton County.

Officials of the state Environment Protection Division said Friday that they have detected unusually large levels of chlorine in Nancy Creek, but they declined to say where the chemical may have come from, citing the ongoing investigation.
If it is determined that a chlorine discharge is to blame, the source of the contaminant could be facing several thousand dollars in fines and a review of any operating permits.

"This is a significant incident if it is attributed to chlorine," said Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental activist group.

State officials have reported several other disastrous spills in recent years. Two years ago, Georgia Power Co. agreed to pay a $215,000 fine for discharging superheated water from one of its generating plants into Lake Sinclair near Milledgeville, killing up to 20,000 fish.

In February, a kaolin processing plant in Twiggs County in Middle Georgia released a chemical in Big Sandy Creek, killing about 11,000 fish.

The scope of this week's incident along the Nancy Creek is still being tabulated, but it will rank as one of the worst considering that dead fish, including sunfish, bass, catfish and darters, have been found along the entire length of the tributary.

"We found high levels of chlorine," said Lisa Klein a fisheries biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division.

Margo Howse, deputy director of the DeKalb Water and Sewer Department, denied that chlorine from the county's water plant on Winters Chapel Road in Doraville was the source of the spill.

"The chlorine residue was very slight and a very long distance from where the dead fish were," she said, adding that county tests detected only traces of chlorine.
Howse said state officials have told the county that the fish kill resulted from "weather stress," a natural phenomenon in which summer heat affects the water's oxygen. The same phenomenon is blamed for killing thousands of freshwater clams in the Ogeechee River in Bulloch County.

Klein said, however, the Nancy Creek kill is related to a chemical contaminant. "There had to be some type of toxin," she said.

Learning Objectives:

Students will:
1. Analyze and interpret data

2. Design and construct a scientific experiment

3. Produce written reports of laboratory activities in accepted formats

4. Investigate the components of a fresh water ecosystem


Relation to Science Education Standards:

Content Standards:


27.1 Analyzes the possible causes of certain ecological problems

27.2 Identifies possible solutions to current ecological problems


10.2 Evaluates the importance of chemical equilibrium to production efficiency in industry


11.1 Identifies the environmental conditions that favor life

11.2 Describes the factors that contribute to the major environmental problems

15.2 Describes eutrophication of water by industrial effluents and agricultural runoffs

Process Standards:

1.1 Demonstrates proficiency in the use of science process skills in the laboratory

1.2 Produces written reports of laboratory activities in accepted formats

1.3 Evaluates procedures, data and conclusions to determine the scientific validity of research


Elements of ICBL

1. Case:
This case will be introduced as a story to the students. Students will work in small groups to assess the situation. The group will be allowed to gather resources from various places in an effort to develop a possible solution for the situation.

2. Resources:
Students will complete research on their own. Students should access MapQuest for location of Nancy Creek in the Atlanta area. Some research time will be allotted during the class period, but most of the research will be completed as a homework assignment. Students will be given a chance to discuss their findings in small groups.

3. Investigative Activity:
Students will be expected to complete thorough research in an effort to develop the best possible solution. After the group develops their solution, students will present their findings to the class in the form of poster presentations, power-point presentations, skits etc…

4. Assessment:
Production of the final oral presentation will be graded based upon a rubric. Successful completion of the Salmon Challenge interactive web tutorial.

Suggested schedule:
Thirty minutes of time for collaboration to develop a hypothesis
Two class periods of discussion and reviewing outside resources within the small groups
Forty-five minutes to complete the salmon challenge
Twenty minutes per group to make oral presentations


The following website ( ) has an interactive activity called the Salmon Challenge.

The students are to navigate through the game and make the best environmental decisions for favorable living conditions of a salmon fry.


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