Environmental Practicum students draft Watershed Management Plan to gain funding to restore UGA’s Trail Creek

Monday, December 12, 2016

Five third-year law students have drafted a 9-Element Watershed Management Plan for the restoration of Trail Creek, which borders the University of Georgia’s campus.

Molly H. Cash, a law student who worked on the plan, said that in the near future, the plan will help them secure funding, conduct testing and mobilize resources to clean up the creek. “In the long-term, the plan will ensure that proper maintenance and check-ups remain in place to prevent future contamination.”

A 9-Element Plan is required for local governments and nongovernmental organizations to become eligible for Clean Water Act Section 319 funding for projects that feature non-point source water pollution control. Athens-Clarke County and Watershed UGA – a UGA project to integrate sustainability into all three land grant missions of the university – formally submitted the plan to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The plan outlines a variety of management strategies to control fecal coliform – bacteria from the gut of warm-blooded animals – which is causing Trail Creek and the North Oconee River to be on the federal and state lists of impaired streams. Specifically, the plan addresses: the repair of leaking sewer pipes and septic tanks; the installation of fences to keep cattle out of tributaries to Trail Creek in the northern part of the watershed; the control of urban stormwater on residential properties; the installation of demonstration stormwater control structures on highly visible sites such as public schools, Trail Creek Park, Dudley Park, etc.; the maintenance of the various large dumpsters in the watershed to prevent dumpster juice from leaking into the creeks and the permanent protection of the wetlands within the watershed that provide important water quality filtering services as well as wildlife habitat.

The five law students – Cash, Kaden B. Canfield, Andrew H. “Andy” Kite, Zachary C. “Zach” Landy and Victoria A. Smith – who are enrolled in the school’s Environmental Practicum – wrote the section of the plan regarding policies and programs to reduce and eliminate pollution. Additionally, they helped secure partners to implement these initiatives. The partners include: the Oconee River Land Trust, the Chicopee-Dudley Neighborhood Association and different divisions of the Athens-Clarke County government.

In late October, the students hosted a community meeting at Howard B. Stroud Elementary School to share their plan with the public. This educational session consisted of two presentations, accompanied by break-out stations, in which the students discussed their specific strategic initiatives. More than 140 people attended the event, and the UGA students received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community.

“I was so impressed with the students’ work – particularly in their presentations at the community meeting describing the sources of pollution in Trail Creek and ways community members and the government can eliminate them,” Environmental Practicum Director Laurie Fowler said. “Folks left excited and wanted to know how they could help. A couple of lifelong residents of the watershed thanked us as they left and told us no one had ever asked them what they thought about Trail Creek and the Oconee River before or explained how they could protect it.”

Graduate level students and faculty from UGA’s College of Environment and Design and the College of Engineering assisted with the development of the 319 funding proposal and the event at Stroud Elementary School.

The Environmental Practicum is a service-learning course, which provides students the opportunity to apply policy, design and ecological principles learned in the classroom to the real world of people and policy.

View photos from the Stroud Elementary School event