Utah State University researchers Jeff Horsburgh, Nancy Mesner, David Stevens and David Tarboton have been awarded a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools for the design and testing of environmental observatories on the Little Bear River Watershed in southern Cache Valley.
The Little Bear River project began Nov. 1, 2006, and is one of eleven test bed projects awarded by the National Science Foundation that comprise the Water nd Engineering Research System network (WATERS network). A test bed project is a pilot study that allows key questions and methods to be tested before larger scale application.
“The project is an outgrowth of some previous efforts. Prior projects such as the Environment Protection Agency-targeted watershed project have built up much of the data and infrastructure that this project will use,” said Tarboton a professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at Utah State. “A lot of time has gone in to preparation and planning for this project.”
The test bed project will develop a set of ‘smart’ sensors connected to a central database that frequently collects data on easily measured characteristics of stream flow, turbidity, conductivity and dissolved oxygen. The control system uses the information to intelligently perform intermittent sampling of other more difficult to measure constituents, such as phosphorous, according to Tarboton.
The approach is based on a theory that some changes in water are linked. For instance, one characteristic, such as turbidity, may indicate the likelihood of changes in another characteristic, such as phosphorus, said Tarboton. The sensing and control system will use advanced computer modeling and decision tools to optimize the collection of additional samples and provide information on how to improve water quality.
In correspondence with Utah State’s history of hands-on-learning, the project is slated to be completed over a two-year span and will support environmental engineering graduate student Amber Spackman’s research on correlating easily measured water quality constituents with instream nutrient levels.
“As an environmental engineer, I seek methods for greater understanding of the response of these systems to natural conditions and events as well as human impact,” said Spackman. “Through the test bed project, I am able to apply the concepts that I am learning in my graduate courses to a tangible scientific problem.”
The Little Bear River test bed project is part of the USU Water Initiative Laboratory Watershed program and builds upon work established by the Bear River Watershed Information System with funding from the EPA Targeted Watersheds Program and the Conservation Effects Assessment Project.
The WATERS network projects are part of a national effort by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. to promote the science needed to address the nation’s critical water problems. Utah State University is a member of CUAHSI.
Writer: Linsday Thompson