EPA names Clemson a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management

Swamp Fox
John Warner
July 14, 2008

Clemson University was recognized as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday. This is only the third such center to be designated in the Southeast and the first center in the nation that focuses on using remotely sensed monitoring data, enabling scientists to collect and analyze information through this type of data network.

Clemson officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the EPA and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) during a ceremony on the university campus. The center is part of Clemson University’s Restoration Institute.

“This designation recognizes our shared commitment to restore and protect South Carolina’s watersheds,” said Jim Giattina, EPA Region 4 Water Management Division director. “EPA and our partners, like Clemson and S.C. DHEC, are taking a broader approach to managing water resources by looking at watersheds more holistically.”

“The Restoration Institute’s work in protecting South Carolina watersheds is vital to our future,” said Clemson Vice President John Kelly. “This center can be an important resource for local governments, industries and community groups who recognize the need for a comprehensive approach to water management.”

Gene Eidson, director of Clemson Restoration Institute’s ecology program, said the center will provide innovative resources to support development of cost-effective watershed management for communities throughout the state.

“At this challenging time for water resources, we are very excited about the additional coordinated resources such a center will bring to our watersheds,” said Eidson. “We’re committed to connecting graduate students and additional resources directly to watersheds where the groundwork is being done.”

The center is taking a leadership role in water resources and watershed issues in South Carolina and is developing strong partnerships with other institutions and agencies. An example of this commitment is organizing a statewide water resources conference Oct. 14-15 at the Charleston Area Convention Center.

“S.C. DHEC is very excited to be part of this MOU. The Center for Watershed Excellence is the first of its kind in South Carolina, and we as an agency believe it will increase awareness and facilitate improvement in water quality across the state,” said David Wilson, DHEC Water Bureau chief. “The center will provide excellent resources to various stakeholder groups, regulated entities, academia and any other parties interested in maintaining and improving water quality in South Carolina. We believe that this agreement is a testament to our commitment to working collaboratively to protect and restore water bodies throughout South Carolina.”

One of the major projects being developed by the Clemson center is the cyber infrastructure-based digital watershed.

“Having real-time data to monitor environmental characteristics — water quality, storm-water runoff, even tree growth — from any Internet access point can improve watershed management,” said Eidson. “This system of remote sensors will provide real-time information to the public, scientists and professional environmental managers. The system will provide hands-on practical information to help promote objective, science-based discussions about economic growth and the environment. For South Carolina to prosper, both economics and ecology must be considered together and ultimately shift the paradigm of river management.”

The university awarded a $1.5 million grant to the Center for Watershed Excellence to develop the cyber platform and four demonstration projects. These projects include real-time monitoring of 215 miles of the Savannah River watershed, a low-impact development project in Georgetown County that is part of the Program of Integrated Study for Coastal Environmental Sustainability, a small watershed project at Lake Issaqueena in the Clemson Forest in Pickens County. Another is a segment of the Saluda River Watershed in Greenville County that is part of the Changing Land Use and the Environment program. The cyber-infrastructure network will be in place and online by October 2008. The platform will host regional projects, watershed group projects and other resources.

In addition to the digital watershed program, the center is working with the City of Aiken, S.C., and Hitchcock Woods Foundation to formulate an ecological restoration master plan for the Sand River. This plan will describe the existing ecological conditions and prioritize individual restoration and remediation projects for the area.

Another project is the Pickens County Strategic Water Supply Plan. This project brings together all water-supply groups in Pickens County to formulate a 20-year plan to address population growth and water needs.

To become a recognized Center of Excellence, the institution must demonstrate technical expertise in identifying and addressing watershed needs; involve students, staff and faculty in watershed research; have the capability to involve the full suite of disciplines needed for all aspects of watershed management; be able to become financially self-sustaining; deliver and account for results; be willing to partner with other institutions; and receive support from the highest levels of the organization.

Some of the benefits of being a recognized Center of Excellence include receiving EPA technical assistance where needed (from instructors, speakers, etc); being able to promote the Center of Excellence to stakeholders; having EPA letters of support for grant opportunities; and identifying opportunities for Center of Excellence involvement in local and regional watershed issues.

For decades, the EPA protected the nation’s lakes, rivers and wetlands by regulating specific points of pollution; the most common of these being sewage treatment plants and factories. Although this approach led to the successful cleanup of many waterways, others still remain polluted from sources not as easily regulated, such as more subtle sources include farms, streets, parking lots, lawns, rooftops and other surfaces that come in contact with rainwater. Today, the EPA takes a broader approach to water protection, looking at both the individual waterway and the watershed in which it is located.

Started in 2007, the EPA Region 4 Centers of Excellence for Watershed Management Program works with colleges and universities from across the Southeast to provide hands-on, practical products and services for communities to identify watershed problems and solve them. Each EPA-designated center actively seeks out watershed-based stakeholder groups and local governments that need cost-effective tools for watershed scientific studies, engineering designs and computer mapping, as well as assistance with legal issues, project management, public education and planning.

The Clemson center has formed partnerships with groups across the state, including: Coastal Carolina University; the College of Charleston; the Medical University of South Carolina, biomedicine and environmental sciences; the University of South Carolina School of the Environment; NOAA-Hollings Marine Laboratory and Coastal Service Center; the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Water Bureau and Ocean and Coastal Resource Management; the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Hydrology and Marine Research; and the USDA Forest Service. The center also is teaming up with other groups at Clemson University, including Computing and Information Technology and the Genomics Institute.

For more information on the Center for Watershed Excellence at Clemson University: clemson.edu.

For more information on EPA priority watersheds in the Southeast: epa.gov.

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