Searching for Water

Monday, June 23, 2008

When H.W. Richards began to develop the Ole Hickory neighborhood off of Highway 61 about 40 years ago, he ran into a problem. His builders failed to find a water supply for residents. After the last well, drilled to a depth of 274 feet, turned up dry, Richards turned to West Georgia Professor of Geology Tom Crawford for help.

Crawford located a well that ended up producing 144,000 gallons per day. Since then, he has explored for ground water and helped develop thousands of wells in the region.

From country clubs to city parks — he recently finished studies on Piedmont and Woodruff parks and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens — Crawford is in great demand as a geologist and consultant for Crawford Consultants. A man on a mission, he preaches the gospel of aquifers to a populace hooked on surface water.

“Any rock can produce water,” said Crawford. “Unfortunately, it is traditional for city and county governments to rely totally on surface water. It’s seeable and predictable until, of course, a drought comes along.”

In these times of drought, the professor emeritus of geology is busier than ever. It has been 12 years since Crawford taught at UWG, but he has left his mark. Asked to find a water source on campus in 1988, he located the first of two wells, which was able to supply about 36,000 gallons of water daily.

That well helped keep the campus green during a regional outdoor watering ban then, and the two wells are still helping to keep the landscape alive through the present drought. Campus officials estimate that they save $40,000 annually in landscaping and irrigation costs alone.

Soon after the wells were drilled, the Crystalline-Rock Hydrogeology Research Station was established on campus. The ground water research facility catapulted UWG to the leading edge of applied ground water research of crystalline rock aquifers in the Southeast.

The research station, rare in an undergraduate program of study, not only provides teaching and research opportunities to faculty, students and professionals at the United States Geological Survey, it also plays a major role in developing water supplies in the region.

Crawford’s passion for developing ground water has also nurtured mentorships with former students. His research and consulting work with protégé and former student Dr. Randy Kath, professor of geology at UWG, has greatly influenced how geologists, government agencies and state institutions study ground water sources.

Kath worked as a field assistant with Crawford for the U.S. Geological Survey and has fond memories of the experience.

“After I entered the geology sequence at West Georgia, Tom must have seen in me what I see in some students at West Georgia: the passion for the science of geology and the willingness to get the job done,” Kath said. “After I took the rigorous junior-level geology courses, Tom hired me to be his field assistant during the summers.

“Tom became my mentor and allowed me to get hands-on experience as an undergraduate, something that I currently do with my students. Without this mentoring, I might not have gone to graduate school at all. In my opinion, the model for this type of education with professional experience has and always will be one of the best approaches to teaching.”

Kath earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at West Georgia, a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee and a doctorate at the South Dakota School of Mines. Eventually returning to UWG to teach after working in the private sector, Kath now directs the Center for Water Resources at UWG and also consults on water issues through his wife’s company, Petrologic Solutions.

“Because of Tom’s experience in this area, he was able to take me under his wing and reintroduce me into Piedmont hydrogeology when I returned from South Dakota,” said Kath. “Since this time we have further developed ground water exploration and development techniques and changed the way pumping tests are completed in rocks in this region. Our work has made great advances in exploration and development methodologies.”

As Center for Water Resources director, Kath has coordinated projects that include the West Georgia Watershed Assessment in Carroll and Heard counties; long-term monitoring of water quality for the cities of Villa Rica, Carrollton and Bowdon, and the Carroll County Water Authority; ground water management for the city of Roopville; and ground water development at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Georgia and the Gwinnett County School System.

When it comes to water, the ties between community and university seem endless. These days, Kath and UWG students are working with Villa Rica officials to develop ground water sources that could deter a water shortage crisis. Just recently, Carrollton officials pumped water into Lake Carroll from a well that Crawford located and tapped years ago.

The symbiotic relationship between Crawford, Kath, rocks and aquifers in times of drought and in times of record rainfall have greatly benefited UWG and the surrounding communities. The geologists and their students will continue to influence ongoing research and development of the region’s water supply and share a hope that residents and businesses will always have a supply of cool ground water to sip and enjoy.