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About the AFI

Appalachian watersheds are a critical source of freshwater for downstream population centers and ecosystems along the Ohio River and eastern seaboard. Despite broad-scale improvements to water quality since enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act, stresses on the nation’s water supply continue to escalate. The Appalachian region faces a unique combination of water-related stressors that include coal and gas extraction, energy production, and insufficient wastewater facilities (Merovich et al., 2013, Petty et al., 2013; Strager et al., 2009, 2011). Of particular concern is broad-scale occurrence of untreated wastewater effluent that constrains economic development within Appalachia and limits access to clean freshwater downstream. Given that regional demands for freshwater are expected to grow and that certainty in water availability is expected to decrease as a result of climate change (Pitchford et al., 2012), the degraded state of Appalachian freshwater requires immediate attention. Securing freshwater resources for the future, however, is constrained by: (1) an inability to rapidly detect novel or dilute contaminants and pathogens; (2) failure to understand complex chemical interactions and pathogen characteristics (survival, transport, and infectivity), (3) inability to predict contaminant transport, toxicity, and degradation pathways coupled with a lack of understanding of the impacts to biological communities from new chemicals of concern within multi-source contaminant mixtures characteristic of Appalachian rivers; and (4) failure to understand how climate-related changes in precipitation regimes (total amounts and timing) may affect contaminant sources, concentrations, and biological communities. These issues are particularly important in our topography where water transports contaminants quickly to downstream users and limits the potential for microbial degradation of contaminants.

These knowledge gaps motivate three core research needs to be addressed by the AFI. Links between field and bench science groups (1a and 1b) will be coordinated through the theoretical group (1c) via a two-way flow of information. Biological and chemical data will be databased and used to feed predictive tools. Potential areas of concern, identified by data mining and theoretical models, will drive experimental work. Our goal is to use an array of approaches to develop the strongest predictive and analytical tools possible, and improve our understanding of interactive, ecosystem level impacts. 

Each focal area will be co-led by WVU, WVSU, and MU. Institutional Coordinators (Hubbart - WVU, Toledo - WVSU, Somerville - MU) will manage the overall effort. Hubbart and Somerville are senior faculty with extensive funding experience in water and related research areas. Research Focus Leaders will administer overall activities within a research focus area. Research teams include chemists, ecologists, molecular, cellular and physiological biologists, microbiologists, engineers, geologists, spatial modelers, and stream and watershed specialists.

Strategic investments from this RII will positively impact the infrastructure of each collaborating institution while also building research capacity of integrated research consortia through acquisition of new equipment, augmentation of scientific expertise via faculty hires, and improvement of shared research facilities. Faculty hires at WVU include a groundwater hydrologist; an organic analytical chemist; and a regional-scale watershed modeler. Proposed hires at WVSU include: an environmental engineer and an aquatic toxicologist. Proposed hires at MU include an organic chemist, an environmental toxicologist, and an ecologist with expertise in environmental modeling.

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For more information on the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NSF-funded awards, please click here.

The Appalachian Freshwater Initiative is supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement Number OIA-1458952. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.