Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Research student examines Blackwater Creek health

For 10 years, Randolph College students have been testing the health of Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the James River flowing through Lynchburg. This summer, Kavya Pradhan ’14 will analyze all of the test results and decipher what that data says about the waterway.

“We have 10 years’ worth of data, but we didn’t have anyone analyzing it,” Pradhan said. “I want to know whether we have recorded any trends.”

Kavya Pradhan ’14, right, and Galen Shen, a high school student assisting
with the project, take water samples from Blackwater Creek in Lynchburg.
Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies, began teaching her students how to test water quality in 2003, shortly after she began her position at the College. She still assigns students in her beginning environmental studies classes to take water samples each fall, with more advanced students serving as project leaders. They examine the stream’s physical and chemical characteristics, as well as the volume of insects, worms, and other small organisms that can be found in samples. “We’ve had well over 300 students who have worked on this project over the last decade,” Warren said.

A few years after Warren’s students began testing the waters, Lynchburg began efforts aimed at improving Blackwater Creek. Those efforts have included sewer system upgrades designed to stop sewer lines from overflowing into the creek during storms, as well as erosion control programs. By analyzing test results from before the work began to more recent data, Pradhan hopes to measure the impact that the improvement efforts have had.

“It’s really essential to see whether or not a type of remedial action is having an effect,” Pradhan said. “You might be spending millions of dollars on it without improving it.”

Ludovic Lemaitre ’11, sustainability coordinator, Sarah Lawson, an  environmental science
and physics professor, Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies,
 and Mimansha Joshi ’14 look for tiny organisms in leaves pulled from Blackwater Creek.
In addition to analyzing test results from previous years, Pradhan is collecting new information. On Monday, she led a group on a testing expedition on a section of the creek not far from the College. They spent a few hours collecting water samples, counting creatures found in the mud, and running other tests. It was a welcome break from more mundane data analysis.

“That’s what’s great about this project. I can stay inside and work on the computer going over the data sheets. But I can also go out and get into the stream,” Pradhan said. “It might be frustrating to get down the steep bank to the creek, but when you get down there you can look around and it’s really pretty.”

The project was featured in a story by a local television station on Monday. Read the WDBJ-7 story here.