Local lab aims to improve water quality

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3-Rippling River: Strouble’s Creek, which runs through Virginia Tech’s campus, has been listed as an impaired waterway since 2000. Photo: Stephen Dixon

by Stephen Dixon, Sidney Cook–

Stroubles Creek is a waterway that runs underneath the town of Blacksburg and flows into the Duck Pond. It is also an important tributary to the New River and provides water for a variety of plant and animal life in the region. However, in 2000 the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality registered the creek as an impaired waterway.

In order to constantly collect data on Stroubles Creek to know the full extent of its impairment, Virginia Tech formed the LEWAS Lab. The LEWAS, or Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System, uses instruments to measure the flow rate, pH level, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, depth and temperature. According to their website, it also has WiFi capability so that the live data updates in real time.

Dr. Daniel Brogan, a postdoctoral associate for the LEWAS Lab, developed the user interface for the data and works on how to best educate the public. He has been presenting the interface in classes at Virginia Tech and seven other institutions. He believes that “having access to this interactive, live data increases students’ motivation and learning about environmental monitoring issues.”

While college students make up a large part of the program, having access to this data is important for all members of the New River Valley. Brogan has also attended science fairs around the area to help educate the youth in the community. He noted that educating people when they are young is a key component to ensuring that they are environmentally conscious through their adult lives.

While the LEWAS Lab mostly focuses on measuring data of Stroubles Creek, the StREAM Lab does more in terms of reducing the sediment and bacteria loadings in the stream. According to StREAM’s website, their goal is to “remove Stroubles Creek from the Clean Water Act list of impaired waters.”

Dr. Cully Hession, the lab director, noted that since 2009 the lab has excluded livestock from stream access, planted riparian zones and installed bioretention cells at the Blacksburg Community Center and Foxridge Apartments. However, there is still much to be done in order to accomplish the goal of removing Stroubles Creek from the list of impaired waters.  Starting this summer, Hession will partner with the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative and work with a $6,000 grant from the VT Green RFP program.

While not necessarily working together, Dr. Brogan and Dr. Hession both share a common passion for educating the public about this issue.

“The more people that know about the problems in this creek and know that it’s there, the more that people will care,” Dr. Hession said.

In the end, that is exactly what Dr. Brogan is doing as well, communicating the data effectively in order to educate the public.

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