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Rhett Jackson stands in a shallow stream

Focus on faculty: Rhett Jackson

Authored by:
Leigh Beeson

Human land use activities, particularly urbanization, have done extensive harm to the environment. Now, it’s up to people to fix it. Warnell's Rhett Jackson believes even small steps can go a long way to improving our water quality. But to tackle the problem, people must know about it.


What are some of the biggest concerns when it comes to water quality in the U.S.?

Excessive and inefficient fertilization of farm fields and lawns is one of the most important water quality problems in the U.S. Too much nitrogen from fertilizer flows down our streams and rivers causing eutrophication of estuaries and near-shore environments. (Eutrophication is the process by which a body of water becomes so full of minerals and nutrients that it overproduces plant life and kills off animal life.) 

An enormous dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico to the west of New Orleans each summer as fertilizer-driven algal blooms suck up the oxygen from the water. In Georgia, the phosphorus in chicken litter is a particular problem. It causes eutrophication of our reservoirs if not properly managed.


What should people know about being stewards of water resources? 

I wish people knew that urban streams are the most polluted streams in the U.S. Over-fertilization of our lawns, unneeded application of pesticides, and, simply, TRASH are the causes. Urban streams make agricultural streams look good. 


How can people help?

People can reduce their water quality and carbon footprint by re-thinking their landscaping. A large, dense, weed-free lawn requires a lot of water, pesticides, and fertilizer (which is made with fossil fuels). And the lawn doesn’t provide habitat. Minimize the amount of lawn you grow, and minimize your chemical application. Plant more trees and shrubs.


Tell us about your involvement with UGA’s Institute of Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS).

Water issues transcend disciplinary boundaries. They involve my field of hydrology but also ecology, marine sciences, geology and geomorphology, meteorology, engineering, economics, politics, law, and social sciences. 

IRIS recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of water issues and incorporates expertise from all these fields. We mix nature-based solutions into traditional infrastructure engineering to increase the durability, sustainability, and ecological function of water systems.  


C. Rhett Jackson

John Porter Stevens Distinguished Professor of Water Resources

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