Water as a Medium
by Chalisa Fabillar, Research Scientist
One of water’s most amazing characteristics is its ability to act as a medium. No I’m not talking about the size of your French fry order or the ostentatiously dressed palm reader. I’m referring to the ability to carry or convey materials, like oxygen, nutrients, minerals, proteins, and other materials which our bodies require. Plants also use water to move minerals and nutrients through their tissues. In addition to our biological requirements, we humans have capitalized on water’s ability to act as a medium for thousands of years and still use it today. We use water to transport people and cargo in ships, clean and carry the dirt away from things being cleaned, carry our physical wastes away through sewage lines, and industries use it to carry (treated) waste from their facilities. These are just a few examples of the way we and the environment use water.
While we need water to perform all these functions for us, we don’t need a flood of it. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve had a lot of rain recently. So much so that we are well above average for this time of year. The result is that the lakes of the Savannah River are filled above winter guidelines and the river itself is running high to try to get rid of some of that excess water. We’ve also had a lot of water running over the land. Since water acts as a medium, it’s picks up everything in its path that isn’t secured or rooted down. This means that all the trash carelessly discarded on roadways, parking lots, and everywhere else people leave their garbage, is ending up in storm drains, creeks, and eventually the Savannah River. There it becomes flotsam or floating debris. When trash collects in the woody debris on the sides of the river it often gets washed all the way downstream and out to sea (think North Atlantic Garbage Patch).
I find myself looking at these collections of trash whenever I go to collect water samples or equipment maintenance. As much as they disturb me, I find them strangely fascinating. The type and amount of the trash tells something about the way people use and care for both the river and the land surrounding the river. Most of the time the trash is plastic bottles, old beer cans, single use plastic shopping bags, and Styrofoam. Usually cheap items, bought and sold everywhere. But every now and again you find something a little different. Like a guitar for example. Can someone please tell me how and why a guitar ended up in the Savannah River? Perhaps it had something to do with those old beer cans?