Class At The Creek
Surrounded by a serene neighborhood of well-maintained homes in Decatur, Ga., Peavine Creek, a gently rolling, shallow stream, flows along as a group of Georgia State geography students approach to study its waters.
On its banks stands a warning sign which reveals the reason for their interest.
“Stream is unsafe for wading or swimming. Contact with stream may cause illness. Bacteria levels exceed health standards.”
The students then reached down into these seemingly clear waters to test its quality during a new Maymester field course offered by Georgia State’s Department of Geosciences. They examined pH levels, temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and tested for content of E. coli — a type of bacteria which can cause severe illness.
“It has been a chance to get some applied experience in the field,” said Kristopher Eby, an undergraduate majoring in anthropology and minoring in geography. “Seeing these concepts in practice is helpful to cement what you learn.”
The creek was one of several stops during the field school course that took students as far north as Lake Allatoona, an Army Corps of Engineers lake that serves as a reservoir for the northwestern Atlanta suburbs, and as far south as Providence Canyon State Park in south Georgia, a canyon that formed as a result of severe erosion due to poor 19th century farming practices.
Jordan Clayton, assistant professor of geography and instructor of the course, said this experience allows students to retain information to a higher degree.
“It's one thing to talk about concepts in the classroom, but it's another to have students make measurements themselves," Clayton said.
Receiving storm water runoff from not only nearby residential areas but also downtown Decatur, Peavine Creek is subject to frequent flash floods during storms, which can cause erosion and affect water quality and sedimentation. The creek is part of the Chattahoochee River basin.
During the Peavine Creek excursion, students performed water quality tests and searched for tiny benthic invertebrates, which can serve as indicators as to the health of a stream.
Peavine Creek is not just a field classroom for students, but also is part of an ongoing collaboration between Clayton, the city of Decatur, and arborist Neil Norton to perform a pilot study exploring the impact of altered stream flow and water quality on erosion, as well as invertebrates living in the stream.
“One of the great benefits of studying in Decatur is that it is at the headwaters of several major watersheds,” Clayton said. “Erosion can be mitigated the best at the headwaters, rather than looking only at the downstream sections that are already experiencing erosion. We are upstream in Decatur, so it’s a great place to evaluate different restoration methods to try to improve the health of streams.”