Originally from Athens, Georgia, Tiffany Eberhard is participating in the 2014 water resources summer internship program with Water Rocks!.
I grew up hiking and biking along the Oconee River near my home down south in Georgia. I knew how it smelled, how it looked during a drought, how it flowed after a big rain. I knew which rocks I could jump on, what animals lived near it. It was one of my favorite places to spend time. I thought this river was simply flowing water and consisted of only what I could see with my eyes. In reality, there is a whole world of unknown creatures that live in rivers, streams, and lakes, a community that we can only see through microscopes.
Water is just two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule, right? In essence, yes but water is home to many different chemicals, minerals, and microorganisms that we cannot see with our naked eyes. In streams, rivers, and lakes, small one celled organisms like bacteria and some types of algae swim about in water. These microorganism form a community much like ours but much, much smaller. Some of the tiny creatures can be bad for us and the environment but some actually help build a healthy and diverse community, adding life to what seems like a simple body of water. What do these little guys eat? Water is also full of chemicals and nutrients like nitrogen. In small quantities, these nutrients and chemicals help feed the microorganisms in the streams and lakes but with too much, they become pollution. My Dad always told me, “Everything is poison and nothing is poison.” He was referring to how everything has the ability to be bad if we are exposed to it at large amounts while if we use or do things in a modest way, it does not harm us or the environment. The same goes for water bodies. Water needs some of these microorganisms and nutrients to keep it healthy and alive, but not too many that it becomes green or brown or tainted. The good microorganisms cannot survive if there are too many bad bacteria or minerals in the water.
In order for us to enjoy water, the good microorganisms need to be healthy and it is our job to help keep the ecosystem in balance so the waterways can thrive. Next time you go enjoy the river or lake, remember to think about the happy little bacteria or algae living in the water. There is more than the eye can see in our complex and beautiful world.