Since the founding of UGA in 1785 many natural features of campus watersheds have been steadily altered and relegated to obscurity. Tanyard Creek and Lilly Branch, both tributaries of the North Oconee River, are the most prominent streams that run through campus. Daylighting the Watersheds offers an opportunity to explore the history and significance of two streams that were once part of the daily lives of students, but now lack visibility and recreational benefit.
The Tanyard Creek watershed encompasses 500 acres including the center of campus, where 74% of the ground’s surface is covered by roads, parking lots, buildings, and other structures that are impervious to water. The headwaters of Tanyard Creek are located underneath a catch basin on Church Street near the intersection of Milledge Avenue and Broad Street. The stream then flows through a pipe under Broad Street toward campus. Tanyard Creek is visible where it joins with Cloverhurst Branch near the intersection of Baxter Street and South Lumpkin Street before entering a culvert below Sanford Stadium. Tanyard Creek is visible again in the historic Oconee Hill Cemetery as it flows toward the North Oconee River.
Approximately half of Tanyard Creek is piped underground and the stream bed has been greatly affected by urbanization. Pollution and land use changes have led to the introduction of litter, construction waste, manmade gravel, and sand from road and parking lot runoff to the stream. It is listed as an impaired water under the United States Clean Water Act section 303(d) for failure to meet its designated use of fishing as a result of fecal coliform levels. Current sampling tests indicate very poor water quality in excess of Evironmental Protection Agency recommended levels.
The Lilly Branch watershed encompasses 409 acres including east campus, where 40% of the surface is covered by roads, parking lots, buildings, and other structures that are impervious to water. The headwaters of Lilly Branch are in the Five Points neighborhood near the intersection of South Lumpkin Street and Woodrow Street. The stream flows through a culvert under Foley Field, is piped under East Campus Road, and becomes visible near the Lamar Dodd building before reaching the North Oconee River.
Approximately two-thirds of Lilly Branch is piped underground and the stream has a long history of alteration beginning with intensive cotton farming in the area over a century ago. Urbanization in the watershed generates high storm water flows that scour the stream bed and pollute the North Oconee River with sediment. Water quality data indicates high levels of fecal coliform, excessive copper and zinc, and high nutrient loads. Although recent efforts are beginning to treat contamination from leaking underground storage tanks in the area, sampling tests show that only the most pollution-tolerant organisms can survive in the water. Significant stream bank erosion and widespread invasive plant species contribute to further degradation in the Lilly Branch watershed.
Water is integral to our lives, but the problems of local watersheds are often hidden beneath us. In a technical sense, daylightingrefers to the process of physically revealing streams that were previously covered. Watershed UGA’s design competition extends the concept of daylighting to include art, signage, installations, and other creative works that bring awareness to hidden streams and their complex relationships to social, historical, economic, and environmental conditions.