Attentive CED student’s notification leads to cleanup of chemical spill in Lilly Branch

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On the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 3, University of Georgia College of Environment and Design graduate student Kiley Aguar noticed something strange on campus.

Aguar, along with friend and masters of fine arts student Zachary Harris, were exploring the Lilly Branch watershed for the UGA Watershed competition, one of the four watershed outfall locations on the UGA campus meant to pipe storm water, when they noticed a “noxious odor.” As the two students investigated further, they realized that something was very wrong at Lilly Branch.

“We noticed fish swimming in the stream, but knew something was wrong when we watched a beaver leave its bank den and walk to a little sandbar,” said Aguar, a CED graduate student. “The beaver looked confused, and was not concerned with us at all. It was almost like it was asking for help.”

The next morning, after the two graduate students contacted the UGA Police, they found dead fish, crawfish, and insects washed onto sandbars. The stream was also littered with clumps of styrene resin, a white chemical substance, and a translucent film floating on top of the water.

“As we walked downstream we continued to find dead creek wildlife and residue along the creek banks,” said Aguar. “The smell lingered the entire length of the stream, but we didn’t notice any evidence of the chemicals or dead wildlife at the confluence of Lilly Branch and the North Oconee River, so that’s good.”

Aguar believes this incident shows how environmental stewardship programs, such as the UGA Watershed competition, are important to promote local natural landscapes in the community.

“People need to be exposed to natural landscapes because most of these natural areas are out of sight, out of mind, which makes it easier for others to mistreat or neglect the landscape,” said Aguar. “There is a good chance this spill would have gone unnoticed.”

As a result, Aguar asks students, community members, and even passersby to take action if they see something is wrong.

“It might seem easy to walk by an unattractive, stinky creek, and expect someone else to take care of it,” said Aguar. “But, trust your instincts, talk to a friend, tell the authorities, and investigate if you think something is wrong.”

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