Lake Herrick Projects

Anyone who has spent time on UGA’s campus has probably visited Lake Herrick, a man-made lake on east campus. The lake has been closed to recreation for over 15 years due to potentially dangerous levels of bacteria and pollution, but research happening at the lake and all around campus is working to restore and eventually reopen the lake for recreation.  The River Basin Center is involved in this interdisciplinary effort to understand the systems at work in the Lake Herrick and its watershed.

While Lake Herrick currently has dangerous bacteria levels at times, the work to identify the source of the bacteria is underway, and with continued success the lake could re-open. Soon, the now-empty beach could once again provide recreation for UGA students and the Athens community.

Researchers and students from across campus are currently working on projects at Lake Herrick. Dr. Susan Wilde (Warnell) is investigating the water quality of the main lake itself.  Her research focuses on the algal community and timing of algal blooms; the algal community at the lake is largely dependent on the influx of nutrients into the lake from its surrounding watershed. Dr. David Radcliffe’s (Crop and Soil Science) research focuses on the watershed around Lake Herrick, which consists of Birdsong Creek and Armadillo Creek.  Dr. John Dowd (Geology) also works in the watershed and has created several monitoring systems that measure water quality, including a stream sensor system that is able to remotely report water quality data.  These projects have also shown that storm events have a large impact on the water in Lake Herrick because of the amount of impervious ground cover around the watershed and other sources of pollution. Large storms bring all kinds of material into the Lake Herrick system, including sediments, excess nitrogen and phosphorus, and pathogens and pollutants from leaking sewer pipes and runoff from streets and trails. Any restoration efforts for Lake Herrick and its watershed must be able to mitigate the effects of a storm event in order to make a long-term impact on water quality.

The monitoring equipment on Birdsong Creek. This equipment monitors stream flow, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity. The sensors transmit this data in real time to a database. The set-up is powered by solar panels (not shown) in a nearby clearing.

This project has three phases and a goal of reopening the lake to passive recreation.  First, the sources of water quality issues must be scientifically identified. Second, efforts will be made to address these issues and restore the lake.  Once this phase is completed, Lake Herrick could potentially be reopened.  The final phase of the project will be to continue long-term monitoring of Lake Herrick and its watershed.  Right now (Spring 2017), researchers are still in the first phase, working to identify the sources of bacteria into the lake. However, Dr. Radcliffe is optimistic that Lake Herrick could be healthy enough for passive recreation in the next few years.

This project is wide-reaching and interdisciplinary, and it is connected to research occurring in streams and watersheds throughout the Athens area.  There is still much to learn about urban stream systems, and Lake Herrick provides researchers and students at UGA with a unique outdoor classroom, offering us countless research and teaching opportunities.

Lake Herrick is near the corner of College Station Road and the Athens Perimeter and its watershed list to the North and West.