Taking river-watching to new levels, Academy pulls out data vital to all

First and foremost: Water is life. Pure and simple, we cannot survive without it.


Comprising 65 percent of the human body, water is essential to humans. Water flows through the blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells and flushing wastes from our bodies. While one can survive weeks without food, the same individual will perish within days without water.

The same is true of our economy: Water -- specifically, the Savannah River -- is the lifeblood driving and sustaining our regional economy.

The Savannah River does not recognize borders, but rather connects us across state and county lines. The river carries oxygen for all aquatic life and nutrients to sustain the food web, and also dilutes the wastes from natural and manmade sources.

The quality and quantity of the water in the river should be of utmost concern to all of us -- not only because we want clean water available anytime we turn on our tap, but because the economic impact derived from the Savannah River and all business, industry, recreation and tourism afforded by the river in Georgia and South Carolina is incalculable.

And no one can deny the beauty of the Savannah River. Whether you encounter the abundant wildlife from a boat or view the stunning vistas from her banks or an overpass, it is tempting to conclude that we will have abundant, clean water -- forever.

However, the beauty masks the complexities of a dynamic river system: population growth, coupled with diminishing supply; the effects of drought on aquatic life or recreation; the potential for interbasin transfers; the cause-and-effect of low-dissolved oxygen in the Savannah Harbor; or the effects of natural or manmade discharges. The list goes on and on.

WE HAVE TO LOOK no farther than Atlanta to observe a water shortage scenario being played out as the drinking water supply for 4.5 million residents is being threatened. Couple Atlanta's problems with ongoing tri-state water wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama, and Mark Twain's quote from the early 1900s appears all the more perceptive: "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."

In order to protect this vital natural resource, we must first understand it.

The primary role of Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy is to comprehensively study water resources within the Savannah River basin. Our research is conducted without agenda, and without bias. We are not attempting to prove or disprove anything -- only to gain full understanding of what impacts our water quality and quantity, and to then develop innovative solutions to minimize those impacts.

Our information is shared with, and is currently being used by, federal and state agencies, municipalities, industry, universities and others seeking to make informed decisions regarding our finite water resources. It is essential that all decision-makers be fully informed, using sound science resulting from comprehensive study.

For the past five years, Academy researchers have analyzed specific water quality parameters in the Savannah River using data collected every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, covering 150 miles of river. Using that "moving picture" approach, reliable information, including trends, emerges. Trends are influenced by conditions such as drought, heavy rain, season, and more.

It is vitally important to understand the context from which research data is collected. Ongoing scientific efforts of Academy researchers provide objective information for water policy.

Inherent in Academy research is the responsibility for broader impact through environmental education programming. Academy researchers and educators are partnering with ESG Operations and Augusta Utilities Department to develop unique opportunities for education programs incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

ALL PROGRAMS WILL integrate hands-on basic and applied science within the context of real life water resource challenges. Participants, whether students, youth groups or the general public, will gain a greater understanding of the need to protect and conserve our natural resources for greater sustainability.

It is essential that in order to maintain a robust economy while achieving a healthy, sustainable, and diverse aquatic ecosystem, someone must study the river as a system and educate the public accordingly.

It is not upstream vs. downstream or Georgia vs. South Carolina. The river and the complexities resulting in ecological and economic impacts to the water do not stop and start at county lines. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, Academy researchers and educators are uniquely positioned to provide information, analysis and innovative solutions related to all of the issues facing the Savannah River basin and watershed.

Cities, industry, business and regulatory agencies do not have the capacity to conduct the continuous research that is necessary for complete understanding. Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy is the only organization doing exactly that. Balance -- or, in scientific terms, "equilibrium" -- is our goal.

Academy efforts will not be short-lived, but rather like the moving picture I have already described. The "video" has and will continue to capture trends and nuances while portraying a living entity with many influences.

It is essential that we understand, so that all stakeholders in the Savannah River basin will be assured of clean, abundant water for life.

We want your support. Please join us by investing in our efforts through corporate or individual support. For opportunities, call (706) 828-2109. And please, come enjoy the iconic beauty of Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, a restored, bottomland, hardwood swamp. This urban park boasts trails and boardwalks, and provides a perfect location for family hikes or bike rides. It is truly an urban gem.

(The writer is president and CEO of Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy in Augusta.)