Water ban threatens campus greenery

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ATHENS, Ga. - University of Georgia groundskeepers no longer will water campus lawns and athletic fields in observance of the strict local watering ban.

The fountain on Herty Field at UGA sits dormant. Athens-Clarke County has instituted a level four drought policy that prohibits all outdoor watering at any time including car washing, lawn watering and filling swimming pools, and is affecting UGA's campus life.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
The fountain on Herty Field at UGA sits dormant. Athens-Clarke County has instituted a level four drought policy that prohibits all outdoor watering at any time including car washing, lawn watering and filling swimming pools, and is affecting UGA's campus life.

And, yes, Bulldogs fans, that includes Sanford Stadium.

The lack of water likely will spell doom for the pristine Bermuda grass Georgia fans view with as much pride as the stadium's famous hedges. It also could affect the appearance of the university's entire campus, from the lush lawns of North Campus to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, officials said.

Barring, of course, the unlikely event that northeast Georgia receives a lot of badly needed rain.

"For those of us who pray, we need to pray for rain," said Charlie Whittemore, UGA assistant athletic director for facilities.

University officials said they must observe Athens-Clarke County's total outdoor watering ban by suspending all outdoor watering until county commissioners lift the ban, which went into effect Sept. 17, and without significant rain, could stay in place for weeks or even months.

The lack of rain has made Sanford Stadium groundskeeper Paul "Waldo" Terrell a worried man.

As Mr. Terrell mowed the stadium's turf last week, the field still has the green glow produced by regular weekly watering.

But without water, that glow could vanish by Saturday's home game with Ole Miss, Mr. Terrell said. By late October and November, the turf could be a colorless, churned up mess.

"First, it will turn kind of blue, then gray and then brown," he said. "Brown is not good."

The aesthetics of the field are one thing, Mr. Terrell said, but what has him really concerned is its "playability."

The field's base is sand, and without water the sand gets dry and loose. Eventually, the turf will start coming up in chunks, leaving large patches of bare sand that compromise players' footing.

The pounding also might require a partial or total replacement of the turf next year, a project he estimates would cost around $100,000.

"For now we're OK, but we're close to having to look at that issue," Mr. Terrell said.

The field was last replanted in 2003 after an especially harsh winter killed the grass. In 1999, significant resodding was required because of vandalism that authorities suspect was done by visiting LSU fans. This year, the culprit could be drought.

Across campus, grass is dying and projects are delayed because of the lack of water.

Most athletic fields and campus lawns are reseeded with rye this time of year, but, without water, it's unlikely the rye will germinate. How those fields and lawns will look months from now is another cause for concern. Landscape projects at Stegeman Coliseum and the Butts-Mehre building had to be abandoned because there's just no water, Mr. Whittemore said.

Construction and private subcontractors are sometimes exempt from the ban, and university officials are staying in close contact with Athens-Clarke about what projects can and cannot use water, construction director Don Tadlock said. The university already put off many construction projects this summer, planning to pick them up this fall. Now those projects might be pushed back even further, Mr. Tadlock said.

Outside the Main Library on North Campus last week, university employees William Childs and Jeff Farr were planting a six-foot tall oak tree on the quad. All they had to help the tree to take root was a few gallons of water from Lake Herrick stored in the back of a pickup truck. Whether the tree will survive in these dry conditions is "anybody's guess," Mr. Childs said.

The lawn outside the library also has taken a beating. Only a few blades of grass survived in large sections of the north campus quad.

That's partly because of a lack of rain and increased foot traffic from three straight football weekends, UGA grounds director Dexter Adams said.

Tailgating on the quad has increased dramatically this year, he said, and there's no way to rejuvenate the grass once it's trampled each Saturday. The drought also could damage campus trees and other plants in ways that won't be obvious for years.


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