Watershed class connects KSU students to creeks, community
A new course at Kennesaw State Univeristy — Watershed Assessment and Analysis — teaches students how to assess the quality and condition of a watershed as well as to engage with private and public agencies to improve it.
The course began when Mark Patterson, associate professor of geography, fielded a call from a Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs member, who wondered if such a class existed.
Thanks to the inquiry and receptive faculty members with interdisciplinary capabilities, it does now. The course was intended for 12 students when it launched in summer 2011. However, 26 enrolled from multiple disciplines, including geography, environmental studies and geographic information science.
Patterson and co-instructor Nancy Hoalst-Pullen designed the course to allow students to examine changes over time at different locations within a small urban watershed. Students get hands-on experiences with the physical, chemical and biological testing of streams, the restoration of impaired sections of a stream, and the dynamics of civic and political engagement for the sake of the watershed.
“I am really enjoying this class, especially the tangibility of doing something compared to just reading about it,” said Chris Hawk, a junior GIS major. “You learn it; then you go do it. It’s a welcome change.”
Analyzing water, counting trees, mapping land use
Largely through field work, students in that first Watershed Assessment and Analysis class collected and analyzed water quality data at 12 locations along Sandy Springs’ Long Island Creek, conductied an urban tree inventory of species adjacent the stream sites, and learned techniques of stream bank restoration. They also learned to use satellite imagery and geospatial technologies like geographic information systems (GIS) to create maps that showcase changes in land cover and land use over time.
For example, students looked at satellite images to see changes in impervious surfaces -- concrete and pavement -- over time.
“The more of these surfaces you see, the poorer the water quality tends to be, “Patterson said. “Generally as you move downstream, the worse water quality gets as more pollutants enter the stream.”
Patterson and Hoalst-Pullen designed the course to balance students’ academic and practical learning experiences. During the four-week course, students split their time between on-campus and field activities, including certification in water quality testing by the Georgia Adopt-a-Stream program. In the field, students collected environmental data and analyzed the stream water for pH, dissolved oxygen and conductivity. Back in the lab, students tested their water samples for chemicals and bacteria that indicate pollution, primarily nitrate, phosphate and E.coli.
To broaden perspectives even further, expert guest speakers from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs, Georgia’s Adopt-a-Stream/Cobb County Water and the city of Sandy Springs talked about scientific, community and land management issues of metro-Atlanta watersheds.
Not just reading -- doing
At one field outing, KSU biology professor Bill Ensign led groups of students in exploring the stream’s fish ecology. Donning hip waders, students followed a similarly-clad Ensign up the stream as he “shocked” fish species to the surface using an electroshock backpack. Once identified and inventoried, all fish were released back to the stream unharmed.
Kimberly Atlee, an environmental studies major and self-described “nature girl,” noted the opportunity the class provides to do something positive for the environment. She said what she is learning supports her career goal of working in water conservation.
Mark Long, a senior GIS major, said the course allows him to tie together skills he learned in his first career in wildlife rehabilitation. “I’ve been working with land surveying and the AutoCAD software program and now I can tie in mapping and land assessment,” he said.
As a capstone project, the students presented findings to representatives of the National Park Service, the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia Adopt-a-Stream and the Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs.
“A major accomplishment of the course is that the final project is a deliverable to the community,” said Hoalst-Pullen, who helped design and teach the course. “It’s an excellent way for students to be engaged citizens.”
-- adapted from original story by Sabbaye McGriff, Kennesaw State University