In the early 1970's, a group of people realized that the city of Atlanta was especially fortunate to have a river as beautiful as the Chattahoochee, running through a major metropolitan city. They understood the importance of the river as a source of drinking water for the state of Georgia. They also saw the early signs of pollution in the river and had the foresight to seek public protection for its preservation.
In 1978, congress responded and then President Jimmy Carter signed a bill creating the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA). The combination of its scenic vistas, urban location, geologic features and biodiversity qualified the area to meet the strict standards of becoming part of the National Park Service (NPS).
The NPS has a particularly difficult challenge of "preserving and protecting" the CRNRA "for this and future generations" while providing a recreational area to a rapidly growing metropolitan area.
Today, the river is combating several types of pollution. Above Atlanta, the most serious environmental threat to health of the river is caused by construction and land development. Development is outpacing the construction of wastewater treatment systems. After heavy rains, sewage spills commonly occur because the wastewater system cannot handle the sudden heavy volume. In metro Atlanta, runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots washes oil, tire dust and other pollutants into the river. Another problem is thermal pollution, which is caused by roads and other paved surfaces heating up the rainwater that is washing into the river and its' tributaries. This water can be hot enough to kill sensitive organisms and fish in the area.