LISTEN: Researchers with Ogeechee Riverkeeper will monitor the watershed both upstream and downstream of the planned Hyundai electric vehicle plant in Bryan County. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

The Ogeechee River in Georgia

The Ogeechee River is the subject of a Southeast Georgia study of the effect development of the future Hyundai electric vehicle plant in Bryan County has on water quality.

Credit: Sierra Club Georgia Chapter

An environmental nonprofit in Southeast Georgia plans to study whether development of the future Hyundai electric vehicle plant in Bryan County affects water quality in the Ogeechee River.

Beginning in January, Ogeechee Riverkeeper will collect water samples both upstream and downstream of the massive Hyundai factory, which the South Korean automaker expects to be fully operational in 2025.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper administrative director Meaghan Gerard said that the goal of the project is to eventually create a before-and-after dataset allowing researchers to analyze the industrial development's long-term impact on water quality.

It's not just the plant itself that might affect water quality, but “everything that comes with it,” Gerard said. “It's a huge housing boom. It's a huge economic boom for the area. The 50-mile radius from that plant is going to be changing quite significantly, and, we think, in a very short amount of time. And all of those things can affect water quality.”

Gerard said that a baseline dataset will enable researchers to identify future “spikes” in water quality metrics, raising the alarm to “trace backwards where it's coming from and see if there's something you can do about it.”

The yearlong monitoring project will be conducted primarily by Georgia Southern University biology graduate student Molly McKeon, as part of a research fellowship with Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

“I like to say that the best part of research is always the field work, at least for me,” McKeon said. “So, I love getting out there and getting in the river and working with the algae.”

McKeon's testing will measure water temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen, as well as monitor for biological contaminants such as E. coli.

Aside from the Hyundai plant, McKeon will examine the potential water quality impacts of Milliken & Company's industrial textile factory, located further north between Statesboro and Sylvania.

Although that facility is being taken offline by Milliken, Gerard cautioned that even the decommissioning process could emit harmful contaminants into the watershed.