Four West Virginia University researchers have been awarded a $607,566 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a system that someday could lead to the restoration of area watersheds impacted by acid mine drainage.

Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences faculty members Todd Petty and Mike Strager, along with Paul Ziemkiewicz and Jim Stiles of WVU ’s Water Research Institute, will use the funding to develop a system for identifying restoration priorities and impact vulnerability in coal-mined watersheds of the Mid-Atlantic Highlands.

Specific objectives of the project are to develop and test GIS -based landscape models relating watershed conditions to physical, chemical and biological conditions of streams in mined Appalachian watersheds, said Dr. Petty, lead researcher.

These models will then be used to identify areas within the watersheds that are priorities for restoration and/or protection from future impact. In addition, outcomes from the project can be used to develop monitoring programs to assess the effectiveness of watershed restoration efforts.

Our real goal is to one day make it possible to fish in some of the awesome rivers that we have in this area, like the Cheat and Tygart,Petty said.This is a difficult task, however, because of the extensive problems caused by acid mine drainage. The models we are building will make this task easier by telling us exactly where we need to focus our restoration efforts.

The three-year competitive EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) project is a continuation of Petty’s work originally funded by WVWRI .

WVWRI uses seed grant funds from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to fund new faculty members and students so they can perform water-related research within the state. These seed monies are distributed through each state’s water research institute. West Virginia’s water research institute has been located at WVU since 1967.

By funding new faculty through the USGS 104b program, we can respond quickly to the state’s water research needs while helping our young faculty become nationally competitive water researchers,said Ziemkiewicz, director of WVWRI .Research such as this collaborative, multi-disciplinary project builds strong scientific research teams across departments at WVU and allows the University to become competitive in large-scale research programs.

The research accomplishments to date include compiling geographic data into a comprehensive GIS database and modeling structure; field sampling and compilation of data on stream flow, water chemistry, benthic invertebrates, and fish communities; and initial data analysis and empirical model formulation.

This project is a direct result of efforts begun with the USGS 104b seed monies I received from WVWRI ,said Petty.I am certain EPA would not have funded the STAR project without the research foundation made possible by the USGS and WVWRI seed grant. Likewise, I believe that the success of the EPA STAR project will launch additional research opportunities and ultimately produce more effective watershed restoration efforts in this region.

The project is expected to reach completion in January 2007.

For more information on the project, contact Petty, 304-293-2991, ext. 2417; or Ziemkiewicz at 304-293-2867.