Collaborative Research with Local Governments in Georgia

Local governments are often challenged to manage the impacts of complex networks of aging and obsolete wastewater networks on human health and the environment with very limited data to inform their decisions. Unlike sewerage, which is often monitored and maintained by local governments in perpetuity, onsite waste systems are typically managed by individual landowners after they are installed and municipal intervention by public health officials only occurs when system failure presents a risk to the community. Integrated networks of communication between public health officials and water resource managers can be limited; hence, many local governments do not have the information needed to assess how the location and condition of wastewater infrastructure may threaten the integrity of surface waters. Collectively, these projects attempt to generate some of this information. 
Co-Leaders of the BioGeoPoop Team! Drs. Nandita Gaur and Rebecca Abney (left to right)
Much of the work below is being conducted in conjunction with the BioGeo Poop Group at UGA (Capps, Gaur, and Abney Labs). We are also collaborating with the Bledsoe Environmental Engineering Lab,  the Bier and Ottesen Microbial Ecology Labs, the Rice Political Geography Lab, the Tennessee Aquarium, the 
Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, and most importantly the Athens-Clarke County Government. We have detailed some, but not all of the projects associated with this research below. 
Links to relevant publications:

Wastewater Ecology and Infrastructure in Athens-Clarke County

This research has been funded using start-up funds from the Capps and Gaur Labs, and two awards from the National Science Foundation NSF. The initial portion of the work has been devoted to enhancing information about septic infrastructure in Athens-Clarke County. You can learn more about this effort by watching the video below. I have also included links and brief descriptions of the NSF-funded projects further down the page.

The presentation was part of the Upper Oconee Science and Policy Summit in 2020. 

NSF Award Abstract #1952183
SCC-PG Smart Septic Strategies: Data Integration to Manage Hidden Infrastructure Threats to Our Homes and Communities
This project will be the first to integrate high quality data on household-scale water use and leak patterns from existing smart water meters, in situ sensor measurements of septic system behavior, automated processing of infrared (IR) aerial imagery that can show septic system failure, and continuous monitoring of septic contamination in community streams with water quality sensors to enable smart septic systems, infrastructure asset management, and reduced threats to homes, health, and water supplies. 
NSF Award Abstract #2035534
RAPID: Soil and water biogeochemical response to COVID-19: increased stress on septic systems alters soil and water quality
The object of this project is to investigate the current period of intensive rainfall and septic system use and how it may generate novel hotspots of biogeochemical activity in both soil and soil water. The core hypothesis is that enhanced nutrient loading in septic leach fields during this period of increased septic stress (COVID-19 and weather related) will drive shifts in quantity and composition of organic matter in soil and soil water, along with shifts in overall biogeochemical cycling. 

Wastewater Ecology and Infrastructure in Northeast Georgia

We were funded by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to investigate bromide and microplastic concentrations in surface drinking water sources for Butts County, and we have expanded the microplastic research to wastewater effluent in Athens-Clarke County. As part of this work, we have generated educational materials for the public about bromide and microplastics. Please click on the buttons below to access this information. 
We are also collaborating with the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District and Athens-Clarke County to examine patterns in septage processing in northeast Georgia.