Category: Phinizy Blog Feed

Rivers Alive Wrap-Up

IMG_1958October 25, 2014 marked the 11th annual Creek Freak River’s Alive Cleanup at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. It was a great day indeed as 94 volunteers turned out to help. We spent the morning pulling trash out of Butler Creek as it runs through the Nature Park, the Mayor’s Fish’N Hole, and Butler Creek at Lock and Dam Park. The cleanup was followed by a cookout supplied by ESG Operations and grilled by Phinizy Center’s own volunteers.

IMG_0044River’s Alive is a program of the Georgia EPD Outreach division which also houses GA Adopt-A-Stream (AAS), Project WET, and River of Words. The mission is to create awareness of and involvement in the preservation of Georgia’s water resources. Georgia’s 70,150 miles of streams and rivers needs our help to remain as healthy waterways. In the early 1990’s organized river cleanups started popping up around the state. DNR’s Wildlife Division organized the first one in 1992. In the mid 1990’s GA AAS took the lead in spearheading an annual state-wide river cleanup. In 1999 various cleanup organizations throughout the state unified to form River’s Alive.

For the past 14 years, River’s Alive has seen tremendous growth going from 61 events with 6,534 volunteers, 3969 bags of trash weighing 99,385 pounds in 1999 to 287 events with 27,833 volunteers, 18,060 bags of trash weighing 615,000 pounds in 2013. Since 1999, Georgia’s River Alive program has recorded over 347,000 volunteers removing 8.8 million pounds of trash from our waters!

IMG_1951The Creek Freaks, the Phinizy Center’s Adopt-A-Stream kid’s club, participated in their first River’s Alive cleanup in October 2003. At that time the CSRA had an annual cleanup put on by Community Partners for Clean Waterways, an informal partnership which included Augusta Canal Authority, Augusta State University Biology Club, Central Savannah River Land Trust, Richmond County Parks and Recreation, Riverfront and Riverwalk Marinas, Savannah Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Phinizy Center for Water Sciences, and Spirit Creek Educational Forest. The October 2006 event would be one of this group’s biggest cleanups with 270 volunteers pulling over 18,000 pounds of trash from Richmond County streams! For the past several years many of these groups have been involved in their own River’s Alive cleanup at various times of the year.

photo 2The October 25 event at Phinizy was an explosion over our past efforts! Over the past ten years we averaged around 10 to 20 volunteers picking up around 800 pounds of garbage plus a handful of tires. This year we had 88 volunteers including Phinizy Center staff (5) and volunteers, Creek Freak members, a large group of medical students at Georgia Regents University (recruited by Happy Helpers), a Navy group from Fort Gordon, and some students in environmental studies at Aquinas High School. We took an amazing 2,690 pounds of trash out of about 1 mile of lower Butler Creek! Let’s hope it stays clean.

IMG_0048Some of the more interesting stats from the 2014 cleanup include: 93 bags of trash weighing an average of 20 pounds, 33 tires with an average weight of 20 pounds, and 1 large freezer. We collected 315 cigarette butts, 755 plastic bottles, 891 glass bottles, 417 plastic bags, 462 food containers, 211 bait buckets and 1,635 feet of fishing line. Fishing line is especially dangerous in the environment as it entangles wildlife including birds, turtles, otters, and beavers many of which endure an excruciating death due to the entanglement.

photo 9Why participate in a river cleanup? The purpose of Phinizy Center for Water Sciences is to provide leadership to balance sustainable watersheds and economic vitality through solutions-based research, education and public involvement. Cleaning up our waterways is a first step in maintaining sustainable watersheds. The next step is keeping the trash out of the streams. This is where our citizens come in. With every rain event more trash is washed into our streams. We all are a part as well as a solution to the problem. Making all citizens aware of the issues is a great first step.

What can you do? Reduce your footprint! Start by seeing how much less trash you can produce. Take reusable bags to the stores, use reusable water bottles and food containers, cut down on packaging (example: why do bananas need to be put in a plastic bag at the grocery store?), avoid plastic! (especially plastic bags & plastic bottles), and don’t buy more than you need. You can also help by picking up after you pets, putting cigarette butts in the garbage, and packing it in / packing it out. If you haven’t been on a River’s Alive cleanup , join one!

You can view the final stats of the cleanup here.

You will find an example of a tally form here.

Water Fun Block Party Outreach Event

IMG_1481How do you make water education and outreach fun? You throw a Water Fun Block Party! And that’s just what Phinizy Center did on September 29th.

IMG_3521The family friendly event was hosted in Colony Park of Richmond County and offered playful water activities, fun and informative games, and a hot dog grill out. Phinizy’s education department walked children and parents through a water cycle game, ESG Operations exhibited a small-scale replica of a septic system to show how they work, and Adopt-A-Stream shared techniques for monitoring water quality.

IMG_3519The purpose of the event was to educate the community about septic system maintenance, pet waste management, and storm drainage fundamentals and protection as part of a larger collaborative project with the Augusta Engineering Department and Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The Center’s role under this collaboration has been to develop and implement outreach strategies aimed at reducing the conveyance of bacteria into local streams in areas where bacteria levels are a concern.

IMG_3526There are over 800 stream, river, and lake segments listed in Georgia over concerns of different types of pollution, but fecal coliform bacteria is the most common one. Fecal coliform bacteria are a broad group of nonpathogenic bacteria that have been used by regulatory groups to indicate potential contact of fecal matter from a warm-blooded animal with the water. In urban areas, like Richmond County, a large portion of the land area is impervious and rainwater can’t soak into the soil, so storm water washing pollutants, including bacteria, into local water bodies is a major concern. Common sources of bacterial contamination in urban areas include waste from pets or wildlife, failing septic systems, and leaky or overflowing sewer lines. Since stormwater runoff is generated from different sources – pavements, yards, driveways, and roofs, the source of a contamination problem can be hard to identify. It also means efforts to control pollution must include individuals and residential communities in cooperation with commercial operations and local governments.

In order to change behaviors that contribute to storm water pollution, the public must be aware of those behaviors and concerned about their impacts on water quality.  We are happy to be able to work together with the public to make the changes that are needed in order to have clean water for years to come!


National Public Lands Volunteer Day


We appreciate our volunteers!

On Saturday, September 27, 2014, 20 local volunteers participated in the annual National Public Lands Day (NPLD) effort by hands on volunteering to remove various invasive plant species from the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park Rain Garden boardwalk. We offer a very special thanks to our Phinizy Swamp volunteers for being a part of this nationwide volunteer effort!

NPLD is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. It began in 1994 with three sites and 700 volunteers. It proved to be a huge success and became a yearly tradition, typically held on the last Saturday in September. Since the first NPLD, the event has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2014, the 21st annual NPLD had more than 175,000 volunteers. Park visitors celebrated at more than 2,000 public land sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.

The volunteers cleared the pathway, clearing it from invasive species and making the walkway pleasant for part visitors.

The volunteers cleared the pathway, clearing it from invasive species and making the walkway pleasant for park visitors.

Why is National Public Lands Day Important?

  • NPLD educates Americans about the environment and natural resources, and the need for shared stewardship of these valued, irreplaceable lands;
  • NPLD builds partnerships between the public sector and the local community based upon mutual interests in the enhancement and restoration of America’s public lands; and
  • NPLD improves public lands for outdoor recreation, with volunteers assisting land managers in hands-on work.

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring Saturday, September 27, 2014 as National Public Lands Day. In the proclamation, President Obama states, “This nationwide effort will help ensure these natural places are managed for future generations to enjoy, and it offers an opportunity for all Americans to give back to their favorite local park, beach, or outdoor retreat. This weekend, as we carry forward a legacy of conservation and stewardship, let us renew our commitment to protecting our environment and building a cleaner world. Together, we can ensure our children and grandchildren can enjoy the full splendor of our Nation’s public and wild places.” You can read the full proclamation here.




On the River: Not Your Average Field Trip

“Always the river runs beneath our thoughts …”

SONY DSCAs part of the Marketing and Development Team, my job is usually in the office. However, today was different – I was getting to go on a field trip, and I was excited! I arrived at the marina, and soon I was surrounded by 7th graders. They were divided into groups, given journals and an introduction, and we were off to the boat.

SONY DSCBefore getting started, there was an extra special treat waiting for them. Phinizy volunteer Larry had bought them donuts. (It seems that growing young people are also hungry young people!) And soon we were cruising along the river, enjoying the scenery and observing the water and land around us. Some of the students even got a chance to steer the boat.

But this was not just a cruise. This was an experience: a way to learn hands-on about the world around us; a way to monitor the health of the river in ways similar to our research team; a way to be part of the life of the river itself. And while floating down the river, the groups rotated between four different hands-on activities created and lead by Phinizy staff that helped them to learn about the health of the water and about how to be real student scientists.

SONY DSCHigh tech. A huge part of learning about the quality of the water is in taking measurements with a sonde, a method our research team uses to track the health of the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers. I watched as a 7th grader lowered the machinery into the water, and the live data began to stream across the screen. Not only did they record data such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, percent saturation, they learned how each of these factors indicates how healthy the river is at any given point. And in places that conditions were less favorable, they were able to look at what was happening in the areas around them that might be making a difference. They were beginning to think like research scientists already!

Playing with bugs. Biological diversity, or the variety of plant and animal life, also tells us a lot about the health of our water. For instance, some animals are very sensitive to harmful chemicals, temperature variations, and other influencing factors. And what better way to find out about this than by having a look at bugs pulled from the water that morning under a microscope. The students were able to identify what type of bug or macroinvertebrate they had and then to note how sensitive it was to its surroundings before placing it back into the water.

EDS-River-Sept9-2014 003Closer to the water. For this special trip, two of our research scientists joined in, taking the groups in smaller boats on the water. They were able to ride closer to shore and to see more of their surroundings. As they took their turn in the smaller boats, they made observations about what was around them and learned to assess the health of the river based on what they observed.

Journaling. Throughout the day, each student wrote down their expectations, their thoughts, and what they were experiencing. They drew vibrant and creative pictures to express these thoughts. And in the journaling segment, they had the opportunity to put everything into words. They were challenged to write a poem that would follow this quote that Eugene Edmund Murphey penned in a poem called Always the River: “Always the river runs beneath our thoughts …”And they did it spectacularly. From those who used fluid language to describe the river’s feelings to those who rapped about how the river made them shiver in their livers, it was clear that they were making a connection to the river and the lifeblood that it provides for our community.

IMAG1145Making a Difference. Throughout the day, I listened to students answer questions and share their thoughts. It was clear that they were bright and that their teachers have been doing a great job teaching them. They already knew that we all rely on the river for the water we need for drinking, for food and for fun, and that the health of the river has an effect on us all. It was also clear that this opportunity made an impact. They all came with expectations, excitement, and nervousness. They left with something even greater – they had become part of the life of the river. They were able to spend a day on the river as scientists, learning and seeing first-hand how the river is always moving, changing and living. Perhaps one of the students in this group will grow up to be a water research scientist, helping us to understand the water and inspiring needed changes. But even if not, this group will grow up understanding why the river and its health makes a difference to us all.

“Always the river runs beneath our thoughts…” And when it does, when it becomes part of the fabric of our minds, we gain a new respect for what surrounds us and for the part we have to play in the life of the river.

Read student poetry journal entries here and here.

Read the EDS blog post here.

Why is that River so Dirty?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Savannah River’s designation as the 3rd most polluted river in the U.S. We had a chance to provide our thoughts on the topic in a series of reports by WJBF’s meteorologist Jason Nappi (view these here) and through an article in the Augusta Chronicle ( However, the dirt we are talking about here has nothing to do with nitrate discharge but has to do with, well, real dirt—the mud, soil, sediment kind of dirt.

If you were on a boat and lower a white disk attached to a rope into the water downstream of the dam (215 river miles from the ocean), you would be able to see the white disk to a depth of about 11 feet. If you were to lower the same disk into the water in the river near Clyo, GA (61 river miles from the ocean), for example, you would only be able to see the disk to a depth of about 3.5 feet. Why?

River Mile 215

water clarity 2





The reason that you would be able to see the disk so far into the water below Thurmond Lake is because the dam and lake prohibit the transport of material (sediment, leaves, nutrients, etc.) that originates from the landscape upstream of the lake, to the river below the dam. In essence, the lake is a big deep puddle that traps most of that material. As a result, the water that gets pumped through the dam is “filtered” by the lake. Removal of that material is the reason you can see 11 feet into the water below the dam.

The reason you can only see the white disk about 3.5 feet into the water near Clyo, GA is not because of Augusta but because the river begins to flow through what is known as the Coastal Plain Physiographic Province. A physiographic province is a region of the world that is distinct from other regions in terms of rock types, the landscape, and the environment that results from the topography and climate in that region. The Coastal Plain Physiographic Province is the region that is characterized by “rocks” that do not stick together (unconsolidated) like gravel, sand, silt, and clay, is generally flat (the Savannah River flows 187 miles from Augusta to the ocean but only falls 100 feet over that distance), and is generally wet with large areas of rivers, marshes, and swamplands. The Coastal Plain begins in Augusta and extends toward the sea.   As the Savannah River flows through the Coastal Plain, it comes into contact with more and more “unconsolidated rocks” and carries them to the sea. In addition, the climate within the Coastal Plain is perfect for growing trees that drop lots of leaves, some of which stain the water a dark tea color as they decay. As the water runs off the land, through the sediment, and ending up in the river, it carries with it stained water and leaf material to grow more bugs and river fish. The additional sediment, leaf material, and natural stain, compared to the Thurmond Dam site, no longer allows as much light to pass through the water which is why you would only be able to see the white disk to about 3.5 feet. The attached figure shows how deep you can see a black and white colored disk (Secchi disk) at several locations along the river.

If you would like to know more about our research efforts on the Savannah River please feel free to read our final report from a comprehensive Savannah River study or our annual monitoring reports (

Figure 1


WJBF Reports on Savannah River Water Quality

In response to the recent report naming the Savannah River as the 3rd most polluted in the US, Jason Nappi did an investigative 3-part report on other factors influencing this claim. Parts 2 and 3 include interviews with Dr. Oscar Flite, Phinizy Center CEO / Senior Scientist. You can watch these reports here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Ogeechee Research Project Begins

Our joint research project on the Ogeechee River has begun. In view of the beginning of this important project, several articles have been written giving more information. You can read them below.

The Savannah Morning News tells there story here:

The Statesboro Herald reports here:

Learn more about the public information session here:


Report Ranking Savannah River 3rd Most Toxic is Questioned

Recently, a report was released naming the Savannah River as the third most toxic in the US. However, not all relevant factors were considered. The Augusta Chronicle’s Meg Mirshak interviewed CEO / Senior Scientist Oscar Flite for his viewpoint on all relevant factors. You can read it here:

Phinizy Celebrates Pendleton King’s New Waterfall

The waterfall is pictured here with the Phinizy Ornithology class field trip group.

The waterfall is pictured here with the Phinizy Ornithology class field trip group.

Phinizy Center for Water Sciences (Phinizy Center) has been hard at work on a collaborative project with Pendleton King Park made possible through a Wells Fargo / National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant. Since April of last year, the Phinizy Research Team has spent over 500 hours on the project doing water quality monitoring, groundwater monitoring, soil analysis, and actively participating in the removal of invasive plants.

Now we are celebrating as the ribbon was cut for the newly created waterfall.

This is all part of a process which will not only beautify the park but will also result in greatly improved water quality for the Lake Elizabeth pond. The next phase of the project will be focused on the restoration of a small historical wetland that will ultimately filter excess nutrients resulting from urban runoff; the filtered water will then be pumped back into the lake via the waterfall. Better water quality will protect the area wildlife for years to come. Wetlands are important for providing a diverse wildlife habitat, preventing soil erosion, purifying water, helping with flood control and more.

This follows a successful similar project where Phinizy Center created a design for wetlands and waterfalls at North Augusta’s Brick Pond Park. Both projects provide scenic places for the public to enjoy while functioning as natural ways to increase water quality, protect wildlife and improve and protect our way of life.

Phinizy Center is proud to contribute to our local treasures.

You can read more about the the ribbon cutting here:

The new waterfall is pictured here with the Phinizy Ornithology group who recently took a field trip to Pendleton King Park.

On the Ogeechee

ogeechee researchPhinizy Center is now on the Ogeechee River! This summer, we placed our first monitor in the Ogeechee River, and we have placed 2 more since. We are monitoring a total of six, two of which belong to Georgia  EPD. Each of these sites is equipped with monitors that measure water temperature, conductivity, pH, and dissolved oxygen every 15 minutes.  The data from these monitors is transmitted in real-time to a website that anybody in the world can see.  To see this data, click on the link below:

Ogeechee River Real-Time  Water Quality Data

We are also collecting monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and annual samples that are being analyzed for a suite of different parameters, including the following:

  • Nitrate, Nitrite, Ammonia, and Organic Nitrogen
  • Ortho-Phosphorus and Total Phosphorus
  • Fecal Coliform and E. Coli
  • Aquatic Insects, and
  • Long-term and 5-day Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD).

The Ogeechee River Project is in partnership with Georgia Southern University.

A public information session was held on Tuesday, August 26th at Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center.

You can learn more about this project at

Read related news articles here.