Water Quality Monitoring for Environmental Assessment and Science Education

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Nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, are a chronic source of water pollution that threaten aquatic ecosystems and water supply across North Carolina. The Research Triangle, located in the North Carolina’s Piedmont region, is particularly susceptible to nutrient pollution caused by rapid urbanization. Urban landscapes, dominated by impervious surfaces and stormwater drains, quickly transport nutrients into waterways during storm events. There, they overstimulate plant growth and deplete oxygen from the reservoirs, potentially leading to fish kills and the associated revenue losses from fishing and tourism industries, diminished property values, human health impacts, and increased mitigation and water treatment costs. Using the water system at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina as a case study, we explored the impacts of the urban environment on nitrogen concentrations and overall water quality at the museum. The goals for this study were to further the collective understanding of urban nutrient pollution and to educate museum guests about a water quality problem that impacts their own environment. To achieve these goals, we conducted a water quality monitoring program, a geospatial analysis, and a survey of museum guests. We sampled water at five locations on the museum’s property, including the main pond, an intermittent pond, two intermittent streams, and the Ellerbe Creek, during four storm events, including Hurricane Florence, from September to November 2018. Comparing these results to three baseline (dry) sampling events, we evaluated the impacts of storm events on nitrogen concentrations and other water quality indicators. Results of the water quality monitoring confirmed our hypothesis that nitrogen levels would be augmented by storm events and the pond would have lower concentrations of nitrates and ammonium due to a higher retention time. A geospatial analysis confirmed that the Ellerbe Creek watershed is highly urbanized (29.6%), indicating that the urban environment influences nutrient loading in this region. The survey of museum guests, designed to gauge knowledge of the water cycle and water quality and interest in a water-related exhibit, showed a high interest in an exhibit and a general awareness of water pollution, though a lack of formal education about water quality. We hope this research can guide future water quality monitoring initiatives and water quality educational activities at the museum.





Rowland, Kelsey, Ian Powers and Lorena Vazquez Da Silva (2019). Water Quality Monitoring for Environmental Assessment and Science Education. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/18423.

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