Wet Watching

Water Quality Program Expands

Morgantown Dominion Post
23 December 2012
Submitted to The Dominion Post

By dipping four sample bottles into the icy waters where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet to form the Ohio River, a delegation of scientists commemorated the expansion of an award-winning water quality monitoring and reporting program that tracks the health of the river that serves the needs of millions of Americans.

The program — Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams (QUEST) — is held at the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU. It is funded by Pittsburgh’s Colcom Foundation.

The institute began the monitoring program on the Monongahela River in 2009 after concerns arose over a high concentration of total dissolved solids in the river that exceeded federal standards for drinking water. The effort led to strategies developed in conjunction with energy producing companies that have since helped alleviate the problem. The program is being expanded to include the Allegheny and upper Ohio river basins.

While in the field, technicians record data and collect water samples that undergo a rigorous chemical analysis at a state certified laboratory. In addition to the institute’s research, local watershed organizations participate in the monitoring program by collecting data from various locations in the headwater streams of the river’s tributaries. The resulting data is disseminated to the public on a website, so the millions who rely on the rivers for their drinking water and other uses can get the results.

QUEST’s success resulted in national recognition when it received a Regional IMPACT Award by the National Institutes for Water Resources. A $700,000 grant from Colcom to the Water Research Institute quickly followed, which enabled the program to expand to cover the two additional rivers.

This week, those three new partners joined WVU officials and Colcom representatives at Point State Park to commemorate the formal expansion of the project by taking the first official water samples from the additional rivers; presentation of commemorative checks for their new work; and celebrate a new name for the overall project — 3 Rivers QUEST.

Project partners who will execute the water monitoring in the expanded territories were chosen in a competitive process.

Wheeling Jesuit University, represented by Dr. Benjamin Stout, was selected to monitor the water quality of the upper Ohio River areas from Pittsburgh, downstream to near Parkersburg. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, represented by Drs. John Stolz, Brady Porter, Elisabeth Dakine and Stanley Kabala, will monitor the lower Allegheny River and its key tributaries.

The Iron Furnace Chapter of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited, represented by Dr. Bruce Dickson, will monitor the upper portions of the Allegheny River and its tributaries. All three organizations were awarded $100,000 checks to move the program forward.

Institute officials said the QUEST program is successful because it provides the public, industry, agencies and organizations with an easy to understand visualization of the health of the watershed systems over a period of time on an accessible website where water quality changes can be monitored and problem situations timely addressed.

For more information about the QUEST program, http://visit 3rivers quest.org.

The West Virginia Water Research Institute, based at WVU, has been in existence since 1967 and serves as a statewide vehicle for performing research related to water issues.