West Run Experimental Watershed
The IWSS, in partnership with the Interdisciplinary Hydrology Laboratory (IHL), is developing a teaching and research mixed-land-use experimental watershed study in Morgantown. West Run has been studied and used for West Virginia University experiential student courses for decades; however, the new initiative is an opportunity to formalize a coordinated effort using a broadly accepted watershed-scale study design.
The program was initiated in 2016 by development of two demonstration sites funded through the West Virginia National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and in collaboration with the West Virginia University Appalachian Freshwater Initiative (AFI). The West Run Watershed is one of the most rapidly developing areas of Monongalia County and West Virginia, characterized by increasingly widespread urbanization. However, the watershed also includes agricultural (i.e., cropping and animal husbandry), industrial, and mining land uses, all of which have contributed to land and water resource degradation.
In 2012, the stream was 303d Clean Water Act (CWA) listed as a result of aluminum concentrations, fecal coliform counts, and a generalized “condition not allowable (CNA)-biological.” Coincidentally, in both 2012 and 2014, the Upper Monongahela River was listed as impaired due to fecal coliform counts, indicating that West Run Watershed may be contributing to a larger regional water resource issue of high fecal coliform counts. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) were developed in 2012 for West Run and four unnamed tributaries. EPA approved TMDLs included target load reductions for pH, iron, aluminum, chloride, and fecal coliform. However, in 2014, West Run remained 303d listed as CNA-biological.
West Run creek drains directly to the Monongahela River at the northern edge of Morgantown. The watershed is partially located within Morgantown city limits and entirely in Monongalia County. Flooding has also become more prevalent in recent years in the watershed due to ongoing development activities that often result in increased runoff and alteration of runoff timing. However, it is not possible to quantitatively characterize the flow regime in West Run Watershed without permanent hydrologic monitoring sites.
“Installing permanent gauging stations will provide critical continuous datasets that will enable quantification of baseflow and stormflow regimes in various land-use regions in the watershed (e.g. agriculture, forest, mining, and industry, rural and urban development),” said Jason Hubbart, Director of the IWSS and a technical lead for the NSF EPSCoR project. “The study will include at least five permanent gauging stations to monitor the flow regime and water quality constituents of concern in West Run creek.”
“Initiating a long-term monitoring program in West Run Watershed also provides a model to show West Virginia citizens how such a study design can advance management practices in complex contemporary watersheds that include many different land-uses ranging from mining to urban development," Hubbart added. “The approach being implemented in the West Run Watershed can be applied to any watershed in West Virginia, at any scale, and is fully-customizable to address the most pressing water balance or water quality questions of concern. Information collected can provide streamflow and water quality information to help land-owners, industry, or citizen groups meet local, state, regional, and national requirements. Methods are standardized and thus transferrable, comparable and subject to the same quality assurance and quality control guidelines.”
The long-term vision for the program includes establishment of a Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM) program in the watershed that will improve water quality in West Run creek using a science-based approach guided by a local stakeholder committee. The Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM) approach necessitates a wide range of actions be investigated. Each of these actions is expected to contribute to reaching water quantity and quality goals. For example, some of these activities may reduce peak stormwater runoff, others may reduce the pollution in the runoff. Under Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM) both strategies can contribute to the solution by improving water quality and supporting biological communities.
“By learning (i.e. adapting) as actions are implemented, the most effective approach(es) will be discovered to address the water quantity and quality challenges in the watershed. This is a broad agenda for West Run Watershed," said Hubbart. “Success will require long-term dedication and investment, and also nurtured, ongoing, integrated, interdisciplinary investigations, including efforts already underway in the watershed and lead by scientists in multiple colleges at WVU, to seek science-based solutions in complex contemporary mixed-land-use watersheds.”