Mon River Quest, a comprehensive water quality monitoring program established by the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, has been recognized as one of the best research, education and outreach projects in the nation and will now compete for national honors.

The program was awarded a Regional IMPACT Award by the National Institutes for Water Resources. As the Mid-Atlantic Region IMPACT Award Winner, Mon River Quest is an automatic nominee for the National IMPACT Award. Representatives of the seven regional IMPACT Award winners will appear at the annual National Institute for Water Resources meeting Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C., where each will give a presentation on their project.

WVU’s Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WV Water Research Institute, will present the Mon River QUEST project.

“Being recognized by our peers in the water research community is a great honor,” Ziemkiewicz said. “Results from the Mon River QUEST project have already led to a significant reduction in peak total dissolved solid loads in the river. This is solid word that supports the University’s mission of service to our region.”

The Monongahela River originates in north central West Virginia and flows northward through southwestern Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh where it meets the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. It is 128 miles long and has a drainage basin of 7,340 square miles. Nearly one million people get their drinking water from the Mon River.

Coal mining within the basin has caused the levels and concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids to rise to near maximum acceptable levels and some tributaries regularly exceed these levels. Additionally, the recent boom in gas exploration and extraction from the Marcellus Shale within the basin has put additional stress on an already strained ecosystem.

Ziemkiewicz said the Mon River QUEST is successful because it provides the public, industry, agencies and organizations with an easy to understand visualization of the health of the Mon River Basin over a period of time on an accessible website and water quality changes can be monitored and timely addressed.

The Mon River QUEST project now garnering national attention had its origins back in 2008 when levels of Total Dissolved Solids caused the river to exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s secondary drinking water standards for taste and smell. That is when Ziemkiewicz developed a strategic monitoring program funded by the U.S. Geological Survey to instigate water quality monitoring and sampling processes at 16 locations in the watershed including four sites on the Mon River and at the mouths of 12 of its major tributaries.

Water samples are collected and lab analyzed for pH, Acidity, Alkalinity, Conductivity, Total Dissolved Solids, Total Suspended Solids, Aluminum, Bromide, Calcium, Chlorine, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium, Sulfate and Sulfur.

Armed with data from the Mon River QUEST project, Ziemkiewicz helped establish a coal industry “TDS Working Group” to voluntarily manage discharges of water from area deep mines. As a result of the monitoring and the cooperation of the coal industry, the TDS levels came down.

“The documented, beneficial results of this project demonstrate how a little science goes a long way in helping to protect and restore the water quality in the Mon River Basin,” Ziemkiewicz said
After the success of the first effort, Ziemkiewicz theorized that data collected by volunteers and watershed groups could extend the monitoring reach of the project all the way to the headwaters and smaller tributaries in the Monongahela River basin.

Additional funding was secured through a grant from the Colcom Foundation to launch the Mon River QUEST program which trains and helps volunteer-based watershed organizations collect data on conductivity, pH and temperature of the water at an expanded number of testing sites. Participating watershed organizations also have their data displayed on the project’s website,

The West Virginia Water Research Institute has been in existence since 1967 and has served as a statewide vehicle for performing research related to water issues. The Institute is the premier water research center in West Virginia and, within selected fields, an international leader.

The National Institutes for Water Resources plays a major role in providing a national platform for research, training and collaboration needed to manage our water resources. Housed in the country’s top land-grant universities, member institutes are positioned to assist state and federal governments in advancing the state of water knowledge and management to protect and preserve our water supply for generation to come.

The 54 institutes that make up the network are located at major universities in all 50 states, three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia and are split into seven regions.



CONTACT: David Saville, West Virginia Water Research Institute

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