Water Quality Monitoring

Throughout history, Tanyard Branch has served as a junkscape, receiving all types of waste from construction debris to tannery residues to landscape scraps. After years of pollution accumulation and neglect, Tanyard Creek has earned a spot in the bottom one-third of streams in Athens-Clarke County, due to high conductivity and culturable E. Coli values. In addition, the creek received a low score of in a macroinvertebrate survey in 2003.

Tanyard Creek exhibits many symptoms characteristic of impaired urban streams such as increase in stormflow magnitude, decrease lag time to peak flow, reduction in channel complexity, and increases in erosion.

In the Fall 2013 semester, graduate students in Dr. Todd Rasmussen’s Quantitative Hydrology class set out to quantitatively access the impact prescribed grazing may have on the water quality in Tanyard Creek. Students in Dr. Rasmussen’s class learned how to set up automated water sampling equipment and analyze water samples for temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, and turbidity. During the same semester, students in Dr. Erin Lipp’s graduate level course, Advanced Topics in Aquatic Microbiology, Health, and Environment, also shared an interest in determining the creek’s health through measuring the persistence of E. Coli present in goat feces under sunlight and shade conditions. Due to high levels of bacterial contamination from leaking sanitary sewer pipes, pet waste, and other sources, the professors and students determined that the goats wouldn’t cause “any noticeable change change in the stream quality” at Tanyard Creek. However, goats may have the potential to impact uncontaminated water. The Chew Crew has addressed water quality concerns by maintaining a low “stocking rate” (less than five animals per acre), and by monitoring soil and water conditions.

Not only did monitoring give Chew Crew more insight on the environmental effects of prescribed grazing, these efforts advanced the university’s teaching and research mission, served as an example of using spaces on campus as a living laboratory, and engaged the community in environmental stewardship.