A multi-discipline Colorado State University research team was recently awarded a $900,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to develop watershed classifications schemes that will help further science-based guidelines to protect the ecological quality of the nation’s waters.
Biology associate professor and lead investigator LeRoy Poff, along with assistant professor of civil engineering Brian Bledsoe, associate professor of civil engineering Jorge Ramirez and professor of geospatial science Denis Dean, are focusing on an investigation of how factors including chemical pollution, local habitat, land use and aquatic life work to determine stream health. The team will also research how reduced streamflows influence sedimentation buildup and the resulting impacts on biological quality.
"By nature, stream ecosystems are very complex because they are influenced by many factors acting at many levels, from local habitat to watershed land use," Poff said. "This research will make great strides in determining how these factors and processes interact to determine stream health. The results have the potential to impact water-quality decision-making throughout Colorado and beyond."
The grant is funded under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to protect and manage the health of stream and river ecosystems. The EPA is primarily responsible for developing related guidelines for states and for determining when the water quality of a stream has become impaired. Water quality impairment can result from chemical pollution, degraded habitat conditions or excessive accumulation of stream sediments, which all affect aquatic life. Reduced streamflows, caused by drought, stream diversion and regulation by dams, also influence sedimentation and impact stream health. The Colorado State project will be one of the first studies to investigate how these and other factors and processes interact.
The Colorado State project has both a national and state focus. The national research will use techniques of engineering hydrology and computer modeling to create patterns of streamflow for current research sites without streamflow gauges, and combine this with existing biological data from EPA to explain how water quality and water quantity interact to influences stream health. It will be the first study to attempt to explain how water quality and water quantity interact.
In Colorado, the research team will conduct field studies on streams in the Arapahoe Roosevelt National Forest to examine how reduced streamflows and low water conditions influence sediment accumulation rates and affect water quality. This study will further provide insight into how water quality changes as natural flow regimes are modified.