April Northside Man: Jason Ulseth

By Candy Waylock

City of residence: John’s Creek
Hometown: Lawrenceville, GA
College/Major: University of Georgia (Environmental Health Science)
Family: My wife, Dawn, works as a veterinarian in nearby Peachtree Corners. We have two beautiful children, Sydney (age 8) and Easton (age 6).
Occupation: Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

For the past decade, Jason Ulseth has worked for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization working to protect the Chattahoochee River and its lakes and tributaries for nearly 25 years. In 2014 when founding Executive Director and Riverkeeper Sally Bethea retired, Ulseth took on the title as Riverkeeper, serving as the organization’s spokesperson and lead river protection advocate. In this capacity, he leads the monitoring, advocacy and enforcement programs for the Chattahoochee River, the region’s primary drinking water source, working to ensure a clean and plentiful water supply for now and future generations.

Where did your love of the outdoors begin?
As a kid growing up in Gwinnett County, I was obsessed with fishing and exploring local waterways. I was especially intrigued by the portions of the Chattahoochee near Duluth and Suwanee. Every possible weekend, I was on the river, trout fishing with my dad, and with each trip my love of the river amplified. This passion continued into college and my adult life. At the University of Georgia, I was the guy who usually showed up to school with a canoe on my car as I likely had just hit the water for a few quick casts before class.

What is the No. 1 threat to our state’s waterways?
The threats to our waterways, and especially to the Chattahoochee, have a lot to do with day-to-day weather events and growing challenges brought on by long–term climate change. When it rains a lot, stormwater runoff is without a doubt the largest driver of pollutants into streams, rivers, and lakes. However, during periods of drought, the main concerns in the Chattahoochee basin are dropping lake levels and low river flows. The year 2016 was a very dry year and despite some recent rain, predictions are that the drought will continue well into 2017.

What can people do to lessen that impact?
It is imperative that people be more mindful of their water use, reduce their water consumption and use every drop wisely. This includes limiting outdoor watering, installing WaterSense-labeled water efficient toilets and showerheads, and only buying energy efficient EnergyStar appliances, because when we use energy, we are also using water.

What grade do you give to Georgia in environmental protection efforts?
Generally, the environmental laws in Georgia are protective of water resources. The problem lies with enforcement, education and special interests’ attempts to weaken existing laws. The state agency charged with enforcing our environmental laws is the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). EPD is extremely underfunded and understaffed. The agency simply does not have adequate resources to enforce the laws on the books, fully test our waterways to identify polluted areas, or educate the regulated community about how to comply with clean water laws. This is where nonprofit organizations like Chattahoochee Riverkeeper often must step in to help fill this void.

When you are not at work, where can we find you?
On the river, of course! Abbotts Bridge within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is my favorite location to trout fish. Launching my boat on a spring morning while the mist rises from the cold river water is truly a wonderful feeling. And now, I love being able to take my children with me and watch as they start to build their own personal connections with our natural world. ■


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