My summer student researcher Jennifer Drew joined me in presenting a poster with the results from our study entitled “Impacts of Phosphorus on Surface Waters from Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) in a Changing Climate”.
We were trying to look for any elevated phosphate levels in six major tributaries of the Dog River (Bull Run, Cox Brook, Felchner Brook, Stony Brook, Sunny Brook, and Union Brook) and determine whether OWTS such as septic systems in the vicinity were responsible for the elevated levels. The premise was that aging septic systems in high water table soaked soils due to increased precipitation events in a changing climate, will cause leach fields and other infiltration mechanisms to fail, and release phosphorus into the Dog River.
We collected and analyzed over 150 samples over five separate sampling events spanning fall, spring, and summer 2013-2014 and measured temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, chlorides, in addition to nitrites, nitrate, and phosphates. We also collected latitude and longitude readings to use in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) mapping.
The lowest phosphate concentration readings we found were in Sunny Brook. This tributary had the potential for elevated phosphate readings (based on local geology and number of OWTS in the area), so the findings invalidated our hypothesis for the study area and period. We presented these findings in the recent VT EPSCoR annual meeting for all the Research on Adaptation to Climate Change (RACC) researchers. A lot of sweat and tears went into completing the various activities we worked on for this research. Some highlights were:
1. The involvement of all 23 students from my fall 2013 Sanitary Engineering course in the fall sampling and analysis phase of the project.
2. The engagement of over 80 K-12 students through service-learning projects that promoted water use, conservation, quality, and treatment. For example, one student group worked with fourth and fifth grade teachers from Flynn Elementary school in Burlington, VT, and involved their students in an engineering design process for a rainwater harvesting system for their school. Through hands on survey data collection, area, and volume calculations, physical model building and demonstration, the fourth and fifth graders got a real taste of an engineering project. The undergraduate team completed their design calculations, design drawings and a cost estimate for submission to the school.
3. I couldn’t have done everything that this summer handed me, without all the time and effort that Jennifer put in and out of the lab. She was in the field with me and learned all the analyses quickly and was independent in no time. She called and emailed towns and other contacts many many times to work on getting data on the septic and sewer systems in the area. She managed to find her way around in GIS and create maps with barely a primer, but most of all her structure and organization made it a pleasure to have her on my team and I can say that she definitely helped shaped this project at least as much as I did.