It’s Saturday in Athens, and the Bulldawgs just scored a touchdown between the hedges. Little did you know, while you and your friends were cheering over a victory, you were standing over an important body of water the entire time. Believe it or not, one of UGA’s most important watersheds, Tanyard Creek, runs underneath Sanford Stadium.
Unfortunately, since these watersheds are out of sight, Kevin Kirsche of the university’s office of sustainability says they have also become out of mind for UGA faculty and students. Without a tangible, visual connection to watersheds, we are prone to forget about acknowledging and respectfully treating these essential resources.
A watershed can be defined as an area of land where water sources form together into one particular stream. The four main UGA watersheds include: Lake Herrick, Lilly Branch, the Steam Plant Stream, and Tanyard Creek.
Historically, the popularization of automobiles (and football) led to paved roads, parking lots, and a giant football stadium. Streams that are meant to flow through landscape are then required to divert into cement tunnels underground, allowing the campus and city to be built on top.
As a result, Kirsche says UGA’s watersheds are struggling with both quantity and quality. Even just 5% of impenetrable land is a threat to the health of a watershed, and our campus is currently at a skyrocketing 30%. The stormwater that rushes off of manmade surfaces carry substantial amounts of sediments, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, pet waste, and more.
These pollutants cost us precious aquatic life. 120 plant and animal species are endangered in our watersheds. We have even failed to meet the criteria for the federal Clean Water Act. Each of our watersheds eventually deposit into the Atlantic Ocean near Brunswick and Sea Island, Georgia, and the towns between are also affected by our traveling contaminated water.
Furthermore, underground streams are unable to conduct its natural process of photosynthesis, since sunlight is a required element. Algae and plants are thus incapable to be the base of the food chain, and the rest of the cycle suffers from this permanent disturbance.
The repercussions of our trickle effect actions have been tangibly seen at Lake Herrick. College students previously were able to enjoy their weekends filled with fishing, boating, swimming, tanning, and biking… all just five minutes away from campus. Lake Herrick used to serve as this source to recreation, but gone are those days.
In 2002, Lake Herrick closed access to these activities due to the unsafe levels of pollution and bacteria in the water. The trails around the lake remain popular, but what a shame it is that we are unable to enjoy this natural beauty to its full potential.
A group called Watershed UGA, describes itself as a “stream restoration and protective initiative.” It has launched a campaign to help raise awareness and education. A recent mission of theirs is to daylight the watersheds and remind people of their existence.
Watershed UGA grabbed the attention of students and faculty on east campus by having art students paint a mural on the ground, where they walk unaware that the Lilly Branch watershed is right beneath their feet.
A human chain executed another demonstration of Lilly Branch. Students and staff formed a single line to symbolize the watershed. These examples help us to visualize and connect with the environmental processes that we are unable to witness firsthand. Temporary illustrations like these are undergoing administrative approval for a permanent presence. To help with this movement, enter their design competition for unique ideas on how to spread the word.
The purpose of all the demonstrations was to show people’s heavy dependence on predictable sources of clean, usable water. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, individuals use on average 100 gallons of water a day. Multiply 100 times the 36,000 UGA students, and 3.6 million gallons of water are being exhausted in a single day in our community.
College students and local residents should not go another day being unaware of the dangers our watershed system are facing. For more information on how to get involved with Watershed UGA, partner with their organization, or apply to be an intern, visit their website. If you are interested in learning more about watersheds in general, visit the Special Collections Libraries’ gallery on UGA watersheds.