Water Research Initiative Launches at Pitt

In a region where rivers and waterways are intrinsically tied to infrastructure, commerce, transportation and public health, up-to-date research on those resources is critical and potential areas of concern are vast.

To nail down the most urgent concerns, four researchers from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Department of Geology and Environmental Science will bring together regional stakeholders, community activists, students, researchers and concerned citizens at the Frick Fine Arts Building for the forum “Let’s Talk About Water” on Sept. 6.

Let’s Talk About Water

6-9 p.m., Sept. 6

Frick Fine Arts Building, 650 Schenley Drive

University of Pittsburgh campus

To attend, RSVP at www.water.pitt.edu/rsvp.

The event serves as the official launch of the Pittsburgh Collaboratory for Water Research, Education and Outreach, an organization founded by associate professor Emily Elliott and assistant professors Daniel BainEitan Shelef and Brian Thomas. It is funded by a one-year, $320,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments that requires the group to create a model for long-term study of the region’s water systems, connect with nonprofits and community groups to share research with the public and collaborate with local stakeholders on issues of water sustainability.

“What we want is to feel like we have gathered all the tools and experts available to be useful in addressing the many challenges related to water in this one place,” said Elliott, who is director of the collaboratory.

Bringing all the pieces together started in January, with research kicking off through the graduate course Answering Regional Challenges in Water Sustainability. The course, supported by The Heinz Endowments funding, took five students into chronically flood-prone Connellsville in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to study the area’s watersheds, land use and various dynamics related to flooding over the course of a semester. In late June, the students’ final reports were presented to the director of the Connellsville Flood Recovery Center, Connellsville City Council and other community stakeholders with intentions that they will be a resource for future flood remediation planning.

In Allegheny County, research delves into nutrients released into the Three Rivers region from combined sewer overflows, unintentional effects of current green infrastructure and ways to develop best practices, metal contamination in Harmar and its relationship to the opening of Interstate 76, urban surfaces, landslides and topography, sewage and water quality and the role of soil moisture on flooding in urban watersheds.

In addition to work being done by founders and graduate students, the collaboratory also has funding for a postdoctoral water scholar every year. This year’s fellow, the aptly named Mark River, comes after finishing his PhD at Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment and completing work in the Duke Wetland Center.

At Pitt, River is interested in researching biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus, harmful algal blooms and nutrient release from sediment.

“Let’s Talk About Water” celebrates the research the collaboratory brings to the community but, more importantly, will help connect officials with the most to lose to the information that can benefit them most, said Elliott.

“We had to bridge the gap between our research and the needs of the communities, municipalities and agencies,” she said.