Grant Paves Way for Adding Ohio, Allegheny River Basins to Monitoring Project

The State Journal
4 July 2012

A $700,000 grant to West Virginia University's Water Research Institute from the Colcom Foundation will allow for the continuation and expansion of the water quality monitoring and reporting program known as QUEST – Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams.

Originally focused on the Monongahela River Basin, the new Colcom-funded 3 Rivers QUEST project also will include the Allegheny and upper Ohio river Basins.

WVWRI began the strategic Quest program  in July 2009 after concerns arose over high concentrations of total dissolved solids in the Monongahela River that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency's secondary drinking water standard.

Since then, WVWRI staff has conducted sampling and monitoring at 16 locations throughout the Monongahela River Basin every two weeks.

In addition, watershed organizations also are collecting water quality data to contribute to the program.

These volunteer-based watershed organizations have been monitoring at additional locations, many within the River's headwater regions. Data collected by both WVWRI and the volunteer organizations are disseminated to the public.  

The program received national recognition when it was awarded a Regional IMPACT Award by the National Institutes for Water Resources.

"The new funding will allow the existing QUEST program to continue monitoring in the Monongahela River Region and also to expand the project's geographical scope to include the Allegheny and the Upper Ohio Rivers," said QUEST Coordinator Glenn Waldron. "This new funding from the Colcom Foundation will also be used to further develop and expand the data reporting capabilities on the QUEST web site."

The Colcom Foundation, which seeks to foster a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life, has awarded numerous grants in recent years to watershed organizations seeking to monitor water quality.

"Local watershed groups are timely and efficiently collecting valuable water data" said Colcom program director Carol Zagrocki. "Combining that data with detailed water chemistry analysis and publicly displaying the information will help protect our water resources. WVWRI had already developed a user-friendly website and was successfully incorporating volunteer data."

The new project, titled 3 Rivers QUEST, or 3RQ, is indicative of the three river sub-regions being monitored: Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio.

TheWVWRI will be selecting QUEST research partners through a competitive grant process.

"Selected partners will be tasked with replicating the QUEST Model in these additional River Basins," said Melissa O'Neal, project manager. "They will implement both a regimented bi-weekly sampling program, complete with full laboratory chemistry analysis, and work to develop a coordinated network of watershed associations and individuals to monitor, at a minimum, conductivity, pH, and water temperature."

She added that, "the distinct yet collaborative approach to collecting and disseminating water quality information provides researchers, recreationists, policy makers, regulating agencies and industry a better overall picture of the health of waters."

The expanded QUEST program also will include funding opportunities for watershed organizations to participate in the QUEST program.

These funds will be disbursed through a competitive grant process and will provide grassroots organizations the opportunity to obtain necessary funding to help implement new monitoring programs or to support existing programs.

"Whether it's monitoring equipment or providing training to their volunteers, these funds will help meet the individualized needs of a particular group," said Waldron.

"The Mon River QUEST program has already yielded an unprecedented amount of water quality information for a large river system such as the Monongahela River Basin," said WVWRI Director Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz. "I'm not aware of any other large river system in the country that has this level of detailed, publicly accessible monitoring information. It has already allowed us to work with stakeholders to improve water quality on the Monongahela River and identify areas that need attention. Expanding the program to include the Allegheny and upper Ohio Rivers will build on a successful model and make this a truly regional tool for managing water quality."