The water cisterns under the bleachers at Grant Field on the Georgia Tech campus.
The water cisterns under the bleachers at Grant Field on the Georgia Tech campus.

By Sally Bethea

Grant Field’s original concrete bleachers – built by Georgia Tech students 100 years ago – are just one of the unusual finds beneath the stands at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

In addition to the old bleachers (still in good condition), unsuspecting fans are sitting on top of nearly two dozen 1,500 gallon cisterns.

These reservoirs, installed in 2007, collect water from an underground stream that flowed (wastefully) into Atlanta’s sewer system for many years; today, the stored water is used to irrigate Grant Field and other campus landscaping.

The result: the school is using fit-for-purpose water instead of irrigating with treated drinking water, reducing its impact on the Chattahoochee River (Atlanta’s water supply source) and saving money.

In fact, these cisterns represent only a portion of Georgia Tech’s plans to harvest water for purposes that range from heating and cooling buildings (currently more than a third of the school’s water demand) to toilet flushing and landscape irrigation.

Georgia Tech’s commitment to reducing its water and energy footprint is inspirational – as is the commitment of other local academic institutions such as Emory University and Agnes Scott College. Innovation and investment by forward-thinking universities will help lead to similar responses by private and government interests, as our region grapples with climate change.

Recently, Georgia Tech announced that it will construct what is expected to become the most environmentally-advanced education and research building in the Southeast – a facility that will meet the Living Building Challenge (living-future.org/lbc). By aiming for net positive energy and net zero water consumption, this project will support the school’s goal to manage storm runoff and protect the city’s drinking water.

But, it’s not just the infrastructure and technology that inspire at Georgia Tech.

Last fall, I was given the opportunity to teach a water resources class about pollution, scarcity and sustainability to students seeking graduate degrees in city planning and environmental engineering. The diversity of their academic and ethnic backgrounds made for a challenging, but always interesting, class – my first teaching post since I graduated from Georgia Tech more than 35 years ago.

We covered a wide array of topics: water as a basic human right, the customs and rules that guide the allocation of water among competing uses, the laws and agencies that regulate pollution sources, the water-thermal energy nexus, climate change and methods to gain consensus among stakeholders.

The students asked thoughtful questions and made pertinent observations. They inspired me with their knowledge, their curiosity and their interest in doing what they could to better the world.

It will be students like these and others who will guide us to the right decisions for protecting our communities and our planet. They will help ensure that more than concrete bleachers survive in good condition for the next 100 years.

For more information about Georgia Tech’s Landscape and Stormwater Master Plans, visit http://space.gatech.edu/.

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (chattahoochee.org), a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.