Above the Waterline: Emory’s ‘Revolutionary’ WaterHub: Centerpiece for Earth Day

Dana Vazquez

By Sally Bethea

Dana Vazquez grew up in Cleveland, Ohio near the Cuyahoga River more than thirty years after the polluted waterway caught fire in 1969 and sparked an environmental revolution that began with the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Today, the Cuyahoga is much cleaner – it no longer “oozes rather than flows” with industrial waste and sewage, as it did nearly fifty years ago; however, like most urban waterways, it still has challenges.

Dana remembers that, when she was a child, the lifeguards would not let anyone swim in Lake Erie, downstream of the Cuyahoga, until the water had been tested. It wasn’t until she came to Emory University in Atlanta and took a class on environmental justice, however, that she learned the full story about her hometown river.

Now a junior, Dana says that she became interested in sustainability and business while in high school which led to her major: Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Corporate Sustainability and Ethics. That focus resulted in an internship with EarthShare of Georgia – an organization that connects people to trusted nonprofit organizations dedicated to conserving and protecting our air, land and water.

For many years, EarthShare of Georgia has organized Earth Day events in Atlanta that have inspired and engaged businesses, individuals and students to get involved in projects to protect our natural resources. As one of her first intern assignments last fall, Dana was charged with finding a new venue for Earth Day 2017: a place that would attract a “fresh and more diverse” audience of corporations, community members and students.

She didn’t have to look very far. The WaterHub, Emory’s “revolutionary” on-site water recycling system, is just a short walk from her dorm.

As Dana learned more about the eco-engineering facility – the first system of its kind to be installed in the United States – and how it is reducing the university’s water footprint, she knew that she had found a perfect Earth Day venue. Created and managed by Sustainable Water, the WaterHub is capable of recycling up to 400,000 gallons per day for non-potable uses – nearly 40% of Emory’s total campus water needs.

On April 13, EarthShare of Georgia will host the 2017 Earth Day Water Symposium & Career Expo in partnership with Emory’s Career Center and Office of Sustainability Initiatives. Participants can choose to attend all day or select events of interest. Student discounts are available.

Dana is particularly excited about the Career Expo, which will be held at the Emory Student Center from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; it will showcase volunteer, internship and employment opportunities with EarthShare of Georgia’s corporate sustainers and member groups. She is anxious for her colleagues at Emory and students from other universities to learn that positions in the nonprofit and government sectors can be just as “glamorous” as corporate jobs.

A Leadership Luncheon in Emory’s Cox Hall will feature keynote speaker, Nicholas Mallos, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program. His presentation will be followed by facilitated table discussions and the annual awards program.

WaterHub tours will be offered to attendees from 2:30-4:30 p.m., along with informal water industry presentations and small group discussions. A reception with a silent auction, music and networking will close the all-day event.

On Earth Day 1970, twenty million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies and teach-ins. Support came from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor – as groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, loss of wilderness and extinction of wildlife realized that they shared common values.

Today’s alarming proposals to eliminate or significantly reduce funding for federal and state environmental programs make it more important than ever for each of us to help save our planet: rally, demonstrate, learn, volunteer, celebrate, engage, and support the organizations that are defending our air, land and water.

For more information about the 2017 Earth Day Symposium & Career Expo and to register, visit earthsharega.org.

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper , a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.

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