WVU Doctoral Candidate Receives EPA Fellowship for Water Protection Research

The State Journal
29 August 2014
By Sarah Tincher, Energy Reporter

West Virginia University graduate student Eric Merriam has been awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's STAR Graduate Fellowship for his research on the protection of water resources.

Merriam, a doctoral candidate in wildlife and fisheries resources in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, will receive up to $42,000 a year to cover tuition, fees and stipends for graduate school. He is the second WVU student to be awarded the Science To Achieve Results, or STAR, Fellowship.

Focused on the protection of water resources in Appalachian watersheds from the effects of mine runoff, Merriam's research aims to improve modeling and prediction capabilities so that scientists can assess how current and future land use activities, like mountaintop removal mining and Marcellus shale gas development, will affect water quality.

“A major theme of my research is the importance of placing surface-mining impacts within the context of other human impacts,” he said. “For example, the impact of surface mining combines with the impact of untreated municipal wastewater, which is unfortunately common throughout much of the central Appalachian region.

“Management efforts that focus solely on surface mining will have minimal benefits to water quality and ecological conditions, such as recreational fisheries,” Merriam continued. “We need to start developing management approaches that address all relevant stressors, including insufficient wastewater treatment infrastructure, legacy impacts from historical mining, as well as contemporary mountaintop mines.”

As part of his fellowship responsibilities, Merriam will be teaching a course on the ecology of Appalachian rivers and attending a weeklong symposium with other STAR fellowship recipients from around the country. He will also be completing a final portion of his dissertation that will determine whether or not water quality in streams throughout southern West Virginia have changed as expected over time as the intensity of mountaintop mining has changed.