The University of Georgia seeks to develop—and redevelop—a physical campus that functions as a living laboratory for sustainability and serves as a filter through which stormwater leaves our campus cleaner than it arrives. Green infrastructure practices on our campuses help to offset negative effects of urbanization on water quality. Watershed UGA is a campus-wide experiential learning initiative engaging the campus community in sustainability through watersheds.
UGA has removed over 1.5 million square feet of asphalt and installed over 50 acres of new campus green space. Herty Field, D.W. Brooks Mall and many other campus green spaces were built in place of previously paved parking lots and roadways.
To date, UGA has installed over 70 rain gardens throughout the UGA Athens Campus. The first, termed a bioswale, was constructed at the UGA Recreation Sports Complex ca. 1998. Some notable campus rain gardens include those at Lumpkin Woods, Tate Center, Special Collections Library and Lamar Dodd School of Art.
UGA has installed more than five green roofs on the Athens Campus to mitigate storm water runoff and reduce urban heat island effect. The green roof on the Geology-Geography Building, originally installed in the 1960’s to support climate research, now includes a food-producing urban garden. The West Lawn at UGA’s Tate Center is an intensive green roof and popular pedestrian green space.
Below the ground between Tate and the Miller Learning Center, a 75,000-gallon cistern collects rain and condensate water to flush toilets in the Tate Center and irrigate the surrounding landscapes. Overall, UGA has installed more than 15 cisterns with a total storage capacity greater than 530,000 gallons.
UGA and Athens were sited based on the “copious springs of excellent water” flowing from Town Spring. The historic spring has been partially restored to reveal original bedrock and support a native wetland plant community. The site, a small oasis amidst much asphalt, is home to community of crayfish and tells a narrative of the early development of UGA and the city of Athens.
Tanyard Branch flows past Bolton Dining Hall and directly under Sanford Stadium. In 2003, the town-gown Lumpkin Street Drainage Improvements project—with 15 rain gardens designed to improve the health of Tanyard Creek—was the largest known street-edge water quality project in the country. The Chew Crew was established to remove invasive plants and engage the community in restoring the Tanyard watershed.
Lilly Branch flows underground beneath Foley Field and is “daylit” near Joe Frank Harris Commons and the Lamar Dodd School of Art on UGA’s east campus. A crowd-sourced student initiated landscape project also resulted in a virtual daylighting of Lilly Branch to reveal to passersby that a stream is flowing beneath their feet.
Originally constructed in 1982, 15-acre Lake Herrick was closed in 2002 due to water quality concerns. There is a current interdisciplinary effort to restore water quality in the Lake Herrick watershed and reopen the lake for experiential learning, research and limited recreation in the future.
The UGA Athens campus is comprised of five sub-watersheds (Town Spring, Tanyard Branch, Steam Plant Stream, Lilly Branch and Lake Herrick) and is located within the Upper Oconee Watershed Basin. Water leaving UGA’s main campus flows into the North and Middle Oconee Rivers which form the Oconee River, which flows into the Ocmulgee River, which joins the Altamaha River and eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean near Darien, GA.
UGA’s 2014 Watershed Management Plan, funded by a grant from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, documents campus watershed health and identifies goals and strategies to continue to enhance water quality. A 2014 summary of water quality data highlights improvements and areas for continued effort as UGA remains committed to improving watershed health on campus and in our community.