Fri. Sep 29th, 2023

The Pittsburgh-based Colcom Foundation has awarded West Virginia University’s West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) a generous one-year grant of $350,000 based in partnership with the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds (FPW).

The grant will support WVWRI’s long-term water quality monitoring and reporting program, Three Rivers QUEST (3RQ), which provides comprehensive data on water quality in the region. 

Colcom Foundation has supported the West Virginia Water Research Institute’s efforts to monitor and improve water quality for over a decade. The Foundation has generously provided more than $3 million in funding since 2010 to help WVWRI carry out its comprehensive long-term water quality monitoring and reporting program, 3RQ. 

The recent $350,000 grant is awarded through the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, which supports efforts to protect streams, clean up pollution and restore degraded wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania. The funding would assist the continuation of their routine preventative and evaluative monitoring on the three rivers, studying total dissolved solids and metals, monitoring the total discharge management plan and watching for any spikes that might occur. 

In 2008, the West Virginia Water Research Institute started monitoring water quality after elevated salt levels in the Monongahela River began to pose a significant threat to local drinking water supplies. 

With the help of key stakeholders, WVWRI was able to launch a successful water quality monitoring program that identified the sources of the rising salt levels and implemented a cost-effective solution. Since 2010, this solution has effectively controlled salt levels in the Monongahela River to below drinking water standards, spanning from Morgantown to Pittsburgh.

As WVWRI cultivated partnerships with watershed groups across the Monongahela River basin,  Colcom Foundation provided crucial funding to sustain ongoing monitoring efforts for the Mon River, its major tributaries, and headwater streams. The initiative later expanded to include the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, which significantly enhanced the program’s reach and impact. As the program grew in scope, it became known as Three Rivers QUEST (3RQ). 

In partnership with several universities, including Duquesne, Wheeling Jesuit, and later West Liberty, 3RQ has continued to expand its reach and refine its monitoring capabilities. By identifying and resolving any new issues that arise, 3RQ and its partners work to safeguard the health of the region’s water resources and the communities that depend on them.

The recent Colcom Foundation grant will, in part, also be used to establish a new 3RQ collaborative effort called Generating Awareness for Project Success (GAPS). GAPS will assist four to six regional watershed groups in gathering the water quality data necessary to secure federal funding for projects that address water pollution.

GAPS aims to provide critical funding for sampling, analysis, and expertise to help watershed groups overcome their data limitations in their efforts to secure funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for remediation projects. With this information, they will be better positioned to apply for federal funding to address issues like water pollution. 

WVWRI Water Resources Specialist Rachel Spirnak explained that in order to remediate their streams, watershed groups need to characterize their problem discharges and then identify where and what kind of treatment is needed to have the most success. “GAPS does that so they can apply for remedial funding,” she said. 

By bridging the gap between limited resources and the data needed to support strong proposals, GAPS can help ensure that more remediation projects are able to move forward and effectively address water pollution in the region. 

Southwest Pennsylvania’s industrial history dates back to the 1800s, with the growth of the coal and steel industries in the region. Over time, the heavy industrial activity in the area had a significant impact on the environment. The region’s rivers, including the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers, were used as dumping grounds for industrial waste, resulting in contamination and degradation of water quality. The air in the area was also heavily polluted by industrial emissions, leading to health issues for residents.

The primary mission of the Colcom Foundation, as stated on the 3 Rivers Quest website, is to “foster a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life for all Americans by addressing major causes and consequences of overpopulation and its adverse effects on natural resources.” Regionally, the Foundation supports conservation, environmental projects, and cultural assets. 

Thanks to Colcom Foundation’s support and the expertise of WVWRI and other collaborations, 3RQ has become a vital tool in the fight to preserve and protect Southwest Pennsylvania’s water quality.

Learn more about Colcom Foundation here:

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