Wheeling Jesuit partners with WV Water Research Institute and WVU

The State Journal
11 June 2015

Wheeling Jesuit University biology students, along with Professor Ben Stout, will assist the West Virginia Water Research Institute and West Virginia University with a regional water quality monitoring program called Three Rivers QUEST that was awarded a $350,000 grant to expand.

The Colcom Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based private foundation dedicated to fostering a sustainable environment, provided for the launch of the Mon River QUEST program in 2010. It came after monitoring of the Monongahela River began in 2009 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 group is in charge on monitoring the Ohio River and its many tributaries from Ravenswood,WV to Youngstown, Ohio.

“We have collected a fair amount of data the last two years, and will continue to do so for another 12 months,” said Stout.

Carol Zagrocki, Colcom Foundation Environmental Program director, said the program is evolving.

“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,” she said.

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 Stan Kabala, 3RQ program coordinator for the Allegheny Region “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 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.

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.