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Etowah conservation group visits library
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Kids provided rain for the enviroscope by pouring water over the map. They watched how rain water affects land erosion and water pollution in the simulated lake during Wednesday afternoon’s activity. - photo by Jessica Taylor

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Jane Graves from Upper Etowah River Alliance demonstrates how water travels through rivers and lakes with an enviroscope at the Dawson County Library June 13. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Since the month of June has ushered in several heavy storms across the state, last Wednesday was the perfect opportunity to learn all about watersheds and what can be done when heavy rains impact local rivers and lakes.

Jane Graves, executive board member of the Upper Etowah River Alliance, stopped by the Dawson County Library June 13 to demonstrate how a watershed works with an enviroscope.

Since the Upper Etowah River Watershed encompasses 390,400 acres, or 610 square miles, and includes parts of Dawson, Lumpkin, Pickens, Forsyth and Cherokee counties, the alliance has been visiting libraries across the Etowah watershed to help explain what has been happening to the region in the midst of the recent storms.

The enviroscope, a plastic model which contains areas representing farm land, an industrial factory, residential areas, a forest, construction zones, roadways, a golf course and a lake and river, demonstrates how water flows from the river into the lake when everything is going according to plan.

But the real point of the enviroscope at Wednesday’s demonstration was to give kids a chance to see what happens to the land when heavy rain storms hit.

Graves sprinkled various food items across the model to represent several things commonly found on the land: dirt, pesticides and herbicides, fertilizer, animal droppings, oil and tire pollutants from vehicles and trash and litter.

Then, water was poured across the landscape to illustrate where the common land pollutants (represented by a mix of cocoa powder, sprinkles and sugar packets) go after a heavy storm.

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Upper Etowah River Alliance board member Jane Graves encourages kids to make it rain over the enviroscope to simulate erosion and water pollution at Dawson County Library June 13. - photo by Jessica Taylor

“Basically anything that is loose on the surface of the land when the rain comes and you’ve probably seen a lot of rain recently… and do you notice what goes into them? Is it clean or muddy water?” Graves asked the kids.

The kids inspected the model lake with crinkled noses. The clear water had turned brown and murky, with floating bits of sprinkles swirling around. The lake was also overflowing into the areas around the lake.

Graves explained that when storms hit a watershed, all the debris on the land including bacteria gets washed into the waterways. And while vegetation such as trees and shrubbery act as a strainer for sediment, man’s interference with the erosion process by cutting down trees has increased the pollutants hitting popular summer destinations.

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The Upper Etowah River Alliance brought their enviroscope to the Dawson County Library June 13 to show kids how a watershed works. - photo by Jessica Taylor

After looking at the tiny model covered in muddy water, kids asked the question: How do you clean it up in macroform?

“It’s making a change in some of the things that we do,” Graves explained.

Mankind has intervened with the natural process of erosion by cutting down trees, building construction sites and dirt roads and adding to point source pollution from factories, Graves said.

“We’re adding to the problem so most of the things we’re doing we could do more carefully - in other words monitor a little more closely what’s going into the river,”  she said. “We could not throw litter out and just basically take care of the environment.”

Georgia has also seen a tremendous amount of rain over the past several weeks, and rivers across the state are fast flowing and dangerous. With several deaths and injuries already from dangerous waters, Graves wanted to warn the community before jumping into fast moving rivers.

“Stay out of the rivers. There’s a lot of debris going into them,” she said. “There’s more than bacteria that’s going to harm you by going into fast flowing water. They’re just unpredictable so it’s best to wait until the storms are over and the rivers are down to normal levels.”

The Upper Etowah River Alliance is a community-based watershed protection group that promotes education that focuses on water quality and nonpoint source pollution affecting the Etowah basin.