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EPA names Clemson as Center of Excellence for Watershed Management in S.C.

Release Date: 07/08/2008
Contact Information: Davina Marraccini, (404) 562-8293, marraccini.davina@epa.gov

(Atlanta, Ga. – July 8, 2008) – Clemson University’s Restoration Institute was recognized today as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management in South Carolina. This is only the third such Center of Excellence to be designated in the Southeast.

Clemson signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this morning with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) during a ceremony at the Madren Center on the university’s campus.

“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.”

“S.C. DHEC is very excited to be part of this MOU,” said David Wilson, DHEC Water Bureau chief. “The Center 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.”

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

“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.”

One of the major projects being developed by the Center is a cyber infrastructure-based digital watershed. A system of remote sensors will provide scientists, professional environmental managers and the public with real-time information about environmental characteristics – water quality, storm-water runoff, even tree growth – from any Internet access point. The cyber infrastructure is expected to be online by October.

Clemson awarded a $1.5 million grant to the Center to develop the cyber infrastructure 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, and two small watershed projects at Lake Issaqueena in Pickens Count and along a segment of the Saluda River Watershed in Greenville County.

In addition, the Center is working with the City of Aiken, S.C., and the 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. Lastly, the Center is working on 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; involvement of students, staff and faculty in watershed research; capability to involve the full suite of disciplines needed for all aspects of watershed management; financial ability to become self-sustaining; ability to deliver and account for results; willingness to partner with other institutions; and support from the highest levels of the organization.

Some of the benefits of being a recognized Center of Excellence include receipt of EPA technical assistance where needed (instructors, speakers, etc); promotion of the Center of Excellence to stakeholders; EPA letters of support for grant opportunities; and identification of 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. These more subtle sources include farms, streets, parking lots, lawns, rooftops or any other surfaces that come in contact with rainwater. Today, 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.

More information about priority watersheds in the Southeast is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/region4/water/watersheds/index.html

More information on the Center for Watershed Excellence at Clemson University is available online at:
http://www.clemson.edu/restoration/focus_areas/restoration_ecology/projects/watershed_center/index.html