The West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of West Virginia University, has been awarded a $350,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation to continue and expand a regional water quality monitoring program called Three Rivers QUEST.
The Colcom Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based private foundation dedicated to fostering a sustainable environment, provided for the launch of the Mon River QUEST in 2010 after monitoring began in 2009 on the Monongahela River through a U.S. Geological Survey grant. The effort expanded to become Three Rivers QUEST (3RQ), with Colcom Foundation contributing more than $1.6 million toward its overall efforts.
The current 3RQ program allows researchers to identify long-term water quality trends in the three river basins for which the program takes its name – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. This latest award will allow the program to continue and expand its focus.
“The program is evolving,” said Carol Zagrocki, Colcom Foundation Environmental Program director. “It has become a valuable tool that 3RQ’s academic partners and local watershed groups can use to collaboratively resolve water quality issues and keep our water safe and clean.”
“Since its inception, the 3RQ has been a model for river and ecosystem research,” said Dr. Stan Kabala, 3RQ program coordinator for the Allegheny Region – based out of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University. “It applies exemplary inter-university collaboration, rigorous science and a commitment to community engagement to an ecologically and economically complex river system.”
The new Colcom grant creates REACH, which stands for Research Enhancing Awareness via Community Hydrology.
“In its first two years, 3RQ gathered an impressive arsenal of water-quality data on its three rivers,” said Kabala. “Now, the new “REACH” program will take this data into the communities of the 3RQ region to engage citizens and citizen scientists to use that information to protect the water, the ecosystems, and the livelihoods that those rivers make possible.”
Through REACH, each partner will appoint a coordinator to serve as a liaison between researchers and the public. The coordinators will provide training to water-monitoring groups about the management tools available in the QUEST database. They also will engage with educational institutions to build connections and disseminate data. All the data in this database is available via an interactive map.
The data that program researchers have collected has provided valuable information about the health of these waterways to scientists, state and federal agencies and the public. One of the program’s major accomplishments was the delisting of sulfate contamination of the Monongahela River by the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection (PADEP) in late 2014.
“3RQ has engaged the community with the region’s leading water scientists with outcomes that may be unique at the national level,” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, WVU’s West Virginia Water Research Institute director. “For example, as a direct result of 3RQ’s work on sulfate pollution, both PADEP and the United States Environmental Protection Agency agreed last December that it no longer impaired drinking water supplies on the Monongahela River. By making our regular stream and river monitoring data available on our website, the public is empowered, knowing the status of their streams and helping identify potential threats to the aquatic ecosystem.”
With the assistance 3RQ provided, volunteer water quality monitoring groups have trained over 50 volunteers, collected field data at over 100 sites, have deployed around 60 continuous data loggers, and have collected samples for the analytical laboratory analysis at 70 sites.
“With the REACH initiative, we are able to take the data collected by volunteers a step further,” said Melissa O’Neal, 3RQ Program manager. “The mini-grant program previously assisted groups with acquiring training, equipment, and staff time.
“Now that a lot of the volunteers are equipped, we can take a close look at the data they are collecting and identify areas of concern. With this grant we have funding to go in and work with the watershed groups to perform targeted studies.
“We are not only collecting more data to determine the impairment,” said O’Neal, “but we’re working with watershed groups and local entities to improve water quality.”
CONTACT: Tracy Novak, WVU National Research Center for Coal and Energy
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