University breaks ground on Wetlands Research Station

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The University of the South broke ground today on a new wetlands research station in Sewanee. The wetlands research station is in partnership with the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia and the Sewanee Utility Board. The project was made possible by a $590,000 grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc.

The wetlands project will serve to demonstrate the ability of human-made wetlands to remove emerging contaminants from treated wastewater. It is a cost-effective technology that can treat up to 100,000 gallons of water daily.

“Because we are located at the top of our watershed, we are in a unique position to demonstrate the effectiveness of man-made wetlands to maintain clean water in a sustainable way,” said Sewanee Professor of Biology Deborah McGrath, project director. “We believe this facility will serve as a powerful model for other utilities across the Southeast. And it will help solve a problem with a class of contaminants that traditional water treatment does not remove.”

“We are indebted to The Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED for making this possible,” said John McCardell, vice-chancellor and president of the University of the South. “Thanks to their support and partnership, this demonstration project will have implications that extend far beyond the Sewanee campus.”

Claude Nielsen, a member of Sewanee’s Class of 1973 and chairman and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, identified this project as an important partnership opportunity for the Coca-Cola system. Coca-Cola strives to bring together organizations with the same goals through what is called a “Golden Triangle Partnership”—or when business, government and civil society come together to tackle societal issues. Coca-Cola is among the leaders in water stewardship efforts, setting ambitious goals to ensure that the Coca-Cola system is doing its part to better manage water resources around the world.

“Water is vital to the communities we serve and to our business,” said Nielsen. “We work in partnership with other organizations, like the University of the South, to support community water programs. Through our collective support, we strive to ensure clean water is available to everyone and to conserve our own water use.” 

A key aspect of this project is that much of the initial planning took place in connection to courses at Sewanee and the Odum School, where our students worked with graduate students at the University of Georgia. “We believe this is the first step in a productive partnership with the Odum School,” noted McGrath.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Odum School and our ongoing partnership with Sewanee,” said Laurie Fowler, C'80, associate dean and professor at the Odum School. “We are looking forward to the beneficial research that this facility will provide to help advance water stewardship programs, not only in the Southeast but around the world.”

The construction phase is expected to take 15 months to complete a working wetland.

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