Mon River QUEST monitors local water safety
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 2, 2012 02:02
Mon River QUEST, a study supported by West Virginia University, aims to monitor water safety in the Monongahela River.
The project, which started in 2010 and is funded by the Colcom Foundation, asks volunteers to take water samples in various places along the river to be tested for irregularities and identify the possible factors that contribute to contamination.
"We have built a system that is already yielding an unprecedented amount of data on a big river system," said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute. "By expanding this project to include a network of volunteers, the data set will be much greater and provide a better overall picture of the health of the Mon River Basin."
The West Virginia Water Research Institute, which is located at WVU, performs tests on the water every two weeks and posts the data collected online.
"Far too often in the world of research, data remains in-house and is applicable to only those internal researchers," said Melissa O'Neal, a research assistant for the project. "As the Mon serves as a public drinking water supply for millions of persons in the basin, as well as recreationists, it was a goal of WVWRI to publicly display our data in a user-friendly manner."
Ziemkiewicz said the project is designed to be a collaborative effort between community members and the University.
"The beauty of this process is that it uses an elegant, cooperative approach to protecting the Mon," Ziemkiewicz said. "In resource-rich states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania, it shows how we can achieve better results when people come together to resolve problems."
One of the main contaminants the Mon River QUEST researchers are looking for are total dissolved solids, which are sometimes found at the Mon River basin following energy recovery operations, he said.
The WVWRI has worked with coal companies to create a way to monitor TDS, which can come from mining, gas well drilling, storm water runoff and other industrial procedures.
"TDS are the main focus of our biweekly study. From our analytical work, we are able to determine the constituents that make up the TDS," O'Neal said. "When TDS levels are high, we are able to determine if the TDS signature is related to coal mining activities or natural gas exploration like brine water from Marcellus drilling activities."
High levels of TDS alert researchers that there are high amounts of inorganic and organic matter in the water sample, which may cause problems with water available to the public.
Prior to the development of Mon River QUEST, water was only collected and tested from four areas along the river and the 12 mouths of the Monongahela river, Ziemkiewicz said. He said his research team began Mon River QUEST to collect samples of river water from many additional locations.
"I think it's safe to say that we have a voluntary, non-regulatory process for controlling TDS from mine discharges that is effective, low cost and efficient," Ziemkiewicz said. "This approach controls TDS without costing any miners their jobs or raising anyone's electricity or sewage rates. A little science goes a long way."
Ziemkiewicz said salt concentrations in the water have been decreasing since the start of the project, a sign the project is helping regulate the river. The river still has traceable levels of TDS from undocumented sources that need to be evaluated, he said.
"There is still a lot of TDS from undocumented sources in the Mon, and we need to find out more about them in order to protect drinking water supplies and other river users," he said.