Blog

From the FieldFrom the Field … A 3RQ Blog

Since December 2012, our 3RQ research team has ventured  into the field every two weeks to record field parameters and collect grab samples along the banks of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.

Combined, our team monitors 54 locations in an area that covers approximately 25,000 square miles.  While the resultant water quality information is made available on the 3RQ website, there’s more to this project than just data…

Along the way, our team has encountered less than optimal weather conditions, dealt with equipment issues and fielded questions from inquisitive citizens regarding their work.

Join us as our contributing bloggers share their experiences, stories, and other relevant (and perhaps not so relevant) information.

Read on and hopefully be entertained, encouraged and maybe learn a thing or two as we get reports From the Field.


*The views and opinions expressed on this page are strictly those of the blogger(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of West Virginia University or the West Virginia Water Research Institute.*

Contributing Bloggers

Dave Saville Blog Pic (Headshot)Name
Dave Saville

3RQ Region
Upper Ohio

Affiliation
Wheeling Jesuit University

Dave Saville's Introduction

Greetings Folks! My name is Dave Saville, I’m a Research Associate working at Wheeling Jesuit University in the Biology Department where I’m helping out Dr. Ben Stout with the 3RQ water quality monitoring program. I am also the Red Spruce Ecosystem Restoration Program Coordinator for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

I grew up on a farm not too far from Buffalo, NY, and came to Morgantown to attend WVU where I earned two degrees. A BS degree in Resource Economics was followed by a MS degree from the Division of Forestry in 1994. While in grad school, I organized the first Appalachian Rivers and Watershed Symposium, held at the WVU Mountainlair in June 1994. This event included a 3 day program with over 100 presenters and was attended by over 300 resource professionals and researchers. During my recent 4-year tenure as Outreach Coordinator at the West Virginia Water Research Institute, I organized numerous conferences and events, including the annual West Virginia Water Conferences.

As a conservationist, I spent nearly a decade as the Administrator of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the state’s largest and oldest conservation organizations. I also led the successful decade-long effort to protect nearly 40,000 acres of the Monongahela National Forest as Wilderness under the federal Wild Monongahela Act passed by congress and signed into law in 2009 by President Barak Obama. This landmark piece of bipartisan legislation was cosponsored and supported by West Virginia’s entire Congressional delegation. I am currently active with the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) which is a partnership of diverse interests with a common goal of restoring historic red spruce-northern hardwood ecosystems across the high elevation landscapes of Central Appalachia. I’m a life-long horticulturist and an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hiking, botanizing, skiing, and whitewater paddling. Montani Semper Liberi!

Muskingum River

The Muskingum River is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 111 miles long, in southeastern Ohio. It is the largest river in Ohio with a watershed larger in area than the State of New Jersey. An important commercial route in the 19th century, it flows generally southward through the eastern hill country of Ohio. The river is navigable for much of its length through a series of locks and dams.Muskingum River - Lowell Lock and Dam

The Muskingum is formed at Coshocton in east-central Ohio by the confluence of the Walhonding and Tuscarawas rivers. It flows in a meandering course southward past Conesville and Dresden to Zanesville, and then southeastward past Lowell. It joins the Ohio River at Marietta which was founded in 1788 as the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.

In the mid-19th century the Muskingum was an important commercial shipping route, with dams and locks controlling the water level to allow boats to travel up and down the river. With the decrease in use of water-based transportation in Ohio by the 1920s, the locks fell into disrepair. Since the 1960s, the locks have been repaired to enable pleasure craft to travel the entire navigable length of the river. The Muskingum waterway is one of the few remaining systems in the US to use hand-operated river locks. The navigation system has been designated a national Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 2006, it was designated "An Ohio Water Trail;" this designation provides for increased canoe access on the river.

Muskingum River - Lowell Lock and DamLocated north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Muskingum River was a major Underground Railroad route used by fugitive slaves escaping from the South on their journey north to Lake Erie and Canada.

3RQ river water quality monitoring samples are collected in Lowell, Ohio where there was once a covered bridge over the river built in 1881. It was one of 10 such bridges over the river built between 1820 – 1887. The bridge connected Lowell, on the north side of the river with the railroad which ran along the south side of the river.

Water-willow

Water-willow

Justicia Americana

This native aquatic plan, common throughout the 3RQ River Basins, is an important and valuable contributor to our river ecosystems.  

Water-willow is an herbaceous perennial that is common along streams and rivers throughout the upper Ohio River Basin and across the eastern US.  The common name comes from a resemblance of the leaves to willow leaves and the fact that it grows in water.  Water-willow is one of the most productive emergent plants in shallow Appalachian rivers and streams.Water Willow Pic

Water-willow can spread vegetatively and from seeds, and forms extensive rhizomes that help stabilize shorelines and stream beds often forming dense colonies and spreading rapidly.  The creeping rhizome allows J. americana to form large colonies on or near the shorelines of still or slow waters in lakes and rivers, and on rocky riffles and shoals in faster flowing rivers.  Its rhizomes and roots provide important spawning sites for many fish species and habitat for invertebrates.

A member of the Acanthus family, which contains 250 Genera and about 2500 species of mostly tropical herbs, shrubs vines and epiphytes, J. americana is one of the few species in the family to live in a temperate region.  Water-willow grows to 3 feet tall and has opposite leaves, long and narrowly tapered (up to inches 6 long and ½ inch wide) with smooth margins and a distinctive whitish midvein.  Water-willow flowers from May through October.  The flowers are on long stems originating from the base of the leaves. Flowers are 5-petaled orchid-like (3/4 inch diameter), white with purple/violet streaks on the lower petals.  It is pollinated by bees and butterflies.

Submerged portions of all aquatic plants provide habitats for many micro and macro invertebrates.  These invertebrates in turn are used as food by fish and other wildlife species (e.g. amphibians, reptiles, ducks, etc.).  After aquatic plants die, their decomposition by bacteria and fungi provides food (called “detritus”) for many other aquatic invertebrates.  Deer will browse the leaves while beaver, muskrat, and nutria will consume the rhizomes of water-willow.  In agricultural streams, water-willow can be an effective mitigator of agricultural runoff by taking up excess nutrients.


Kabala PicName
Stanley Kabala

3RQ Region
Southern Allegheny

Affiliation
Duquesne University

Stanley Kabala's Introduction

Hi, folks.  My name is Stan Kabala and I am the Associate Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) at Duquesne University, where I have worked since 1996. For 3RQ, I serve as the point person for the 3RQ Lower Allegheny region for our team here made up of Dr. John Stolz, Brady Porter, and Beth Dakin, grad student Oliver Dugas, and undergrad Lauren Drumm.  For about 25 years now I have been working on different aspects of environmental affairs. In the context of environmental management in the U.S., I’ve focused on waste minimization, pollution prevention, and energy efficiency; environmental management systems in the public sector; and watershed-based approaches to storm water management, engaging in what has come to be called place-based technical assistance. 

My interest in 3RQ stems from my work for the past 10 years or so that has included providing technical outreach programs for municipal government professionals on the use of innovative, upstream-focused storm water best management practices (BMP).  Among other things, this led to the creation of the Inter-Municipal Environmental Forum, an informal organization of municipalities, non-profit organizations, watershed associations, county conservation districts, and state agencies that focused on watershed protection in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh on two adjoining counties. 

In a parallel effort, this technical outreach to local government, took the form of working with local municipalities to develop GHG emissions inventories and climate action plans for their communities.  In the late 1980s and 1990s I spent considerable time working similar issues at the intersection of environment and development in central and Eastern Europe, where I worked under the varied auspices of the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and National Academy of Sciences. Recently I’ve extended that work to rural Mexico and Ghana.

Professional things, aside, I the father of four and grandfather of four, a kayaker, and avid—read fanatical—vegetable gardener, whose garden can be made out on Google Earth satellite photos.

Field Work is Not for the Faint of Heart

As Duquesne's point person for 3RQ and self-appointed conduit for cool information on our 3RQ doins’, I am aiming at getting as many of our participants here at Duquesne and among our partners in the community to tell the stories of their experiences outdoors, in the water, and over the fields as they work on water quality.  To launch this mini-series of stories, I am not able to resist making our first contribution to the 3RQ blog the following tale by our graduate student Oliver Dugas.  As you’ll see, it is far too much fun to pass up—for the reader, or editor (me.), at least.  As for the author, well…

“Field work is not for the faint of heart. I took a hiatus from it after accepting a position in an environmental microbiology lab but when I was approached to work on the 3RQ project I was happy to return. I had been out on three sampling trips for this project before and experienced optimal weather conditions. It felt great to be working in the outdoors again. I forgot that the weather does not always plan itself according to your scheduled sampling days. I was trained for this project by Dr. Beth Dakin of the biology department at Duquesne University. She always suggested getting an early start because the field is unpredictable and it is better to have deal with issues during the daylight than the night; worst case you finish early and have the rest of the day to yourself. I now treasure that advice.

I had my equipment packed the night before and I was up and in my car by 6:00 am. The sky was clear and it only appeared to have sprinkled a bit. I knew going into the day that the forecast called for rain but I was not prepared for what transpired. I turned on the morning radio program that I typically listen to and started my commute. All the jockeys talked about were flash floods. Apparently, if you could call in sick or go to work late, today was the day to do it.

I sampled my first two sites, Allegheny Lock and Dam 2 and Pine Creek, without obstruction. There only had been a few measly rain drops. As most people do, I blamed it on the meteorologist being wrong again; they can never seem to get it right. It wasn’t till I was approaching my third site, Buffalo Creek, that I realized that I passed my judgment far too quickly. 

Now, as a student finishing on my master’s at Duquesne in the Environmental Science and Management program, a streamlined programed aimed to get a student a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years, I am no stranger to the field. I have always volunteered to go out during that time duration but nothing quite prepared me for what I was about to experience.

As I neared, the rain began to pour down in sheets. I figured it was just rain and that I would fine if I got a little wet. I proceeded to the normal parking pull off on the side of the road while I mentally prepared to do the job as quickly as possible. I didn’t realize that it had been raining in this particular area for far longer than previous areas I had visited. The creek was high; really high. And lightning and thunder was ringing out louder than I have ever heard. I parked, took a deep breath, and ran out of my car. I circled the vehicle and opened up the trunk to grab the YSI multimeter and the collection bucket. I sprinted to the side of the road and recognized that the stream bank that I normally transverse had vanished and that the water was a few feet down the bank under the road. I could not reach it without falling into the fast moving waters myself. I ran back to the car to grab a piece of rope so that I could hurl a bucket down below to grab a sample of water. I returned to the edge and tried with all my might to toss the bucket down below. I almost lost the bucket to the current. As I was desperately and pathetically trying to reel the bucket in without loads of vegetation and sediment, a bolt of lightning struck a tree nearby and it fell beside me, completely blocking the road that I had just traveled down. I retrieved the bucket with nothing but mud and returned to my car. I knew that the mud would not pass through the filtration unit used to prepare the sample that would be analyzed by the laboratory that we send it to and so defeated I sat in my driver-side seat to regroup. It was then that I did the only logical thing I could think of. I called my parents.  I just wanted to hear their reassuring voices to talk me back into confidence. Unfortunately, because of the weather and rural area I had no service and so I did my best to assess the situation. I sat and listened to the radio but nothing but emergency announcements passed over the air waves. They told me to seek higher ground.

As a young man, I try to act as brave as possible but given the circumstances I was scared. After failing to call my superiors and my sampling counterpart, Lauren, who was tending to her sites, I knew the show must go on. I returned to the bank as composed as I could and released the bucket once more. This time I was fortunate to hit water. After all there was a lot of it to go around. I made my way back to my car, filtered the lab sample, filled the raw water sample container, and I was finished. I put the samples in the cooler, ran to the driver side door, put the keys in the ignition, and put the car in drive. I had to venture further down the road considering the road to my rear was blocked.

I made it out alive and full of adrenaline. The road ahead was clear and I finally had a phone signal to make the necessary calls. Instead I called my friends to inform them of my thrilling experience. It was at that moment driving in the rain that I wanted to pursue a career as a storm chaser.  Fortunately (unfortunately), my other sites were not nearly as invigorating. Working in the lab I forgot how exhilarating working in the field could be. In the end it was about one important goal; science. This project is determined to retrieve data to fulfill the greater quest of knowledge and understanding and I am happy that I was a part of it.”                                                                                                     
---Oliver Dugas

Duquesne University Grad Student Shares One of Her Water Quality Monitoring Experiences

Greetings Earthlings,

I will now narrate for you one of my more interesting water sampling experiences. I have chosen this experience to share with you because it reassures me that my job requires skills beyond being able to fill a plastic bottle with water.

To understand my story, I must first explain the anatomy of the apparatus we use to filter water samples in the field. It consists of a top and bottom chamber that sit one on top of the other. The opening of the bottom chamber is sealed by a circular plastic filter piece, which has a rubber O-ring that fits underneath it, creating a vacuum seal. The water sample is poured into the top chamber and is pumped through the filter into the bottom chamber with a hand-powered pump that is connected to a spout on the bottom chamber.

Now for my riveting tale. I was at my fourth site of the day, which is also one of the furthest sites from my starting point in Pittsburgh. I had collected my raw water sample from the river and my filtration apparatus was assembled and ready to go. I poured the water into the top chamber and, to my dismay, the water started leaking out of the meeting point between the top and bottom chamber. Not yet convinced that there was something wrong I tried again, making sure the top chamber was securely fixed to the bottom this time. The leaking ensued again…something was definitely wrong. Frustrated, I took the apparatus apart and investigated. It took me long enough, but I finally realized that the rubber O-ring, which creates the vacuum seal, was missing and nowhere to be found on the ground around me.

At this time, I did not have replacement pieces for the filtration apparatus with me. I went back to my car only to find that the rubber ring was not there either. I was more than an hour from Duquesne and wasn’t keen on the idea of going out of my way to find a replacement at a hardware store. Rummaging through my trunk I found that someone had put a pair of rubber gloves in the case that holds our YSI multiparameter probe. Upon reflection of this moment, I am editing in a light bulb appearing above my head, burning brightly with the brilliance of my idea. I used my car key to cut the cuff away from the rest of the rubber glove.  I doubled it around itself and stretched it around the bottom of the plastic filter piece. With absolutely nothing at stake besides my own precious time and the prospect of being able to blog about this experience, I anxiously tested the effectiveness of the makeshift O-ring by filtering some DI water through the filtration apparatus.  

Believe it or not…it worked. I would be lying if I said I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when the water didn’t leak out of its container. My improvised O-ring worked like a charm for my remaining two sites as well. My takeaways from this experience: 1) Always have a backup for every piece of equipment when doing fieldwork, and 2) Never underestimate the power of laziness as motivation for resourcefulness.

Lauren Drumm

Lauren Drumm is a graduate student at Duquesne University's Center for Environmental Research and Education.  She is also an active member of the 3RQ research team at Duquesne University.


Bruce Dickson Blog Pic (Headshot)Name
Bruce Dickson

3RQ Region
Northern Allegheny

Affiliation
Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited (PA)

Bruce Dickson's Introduction

I’ve been kicking around the upper Allegheny River for many years having grown up on a farm near the confluence of French Creek and the Allegheny at Franklin.  I’ve duck hunted, trapped, canoed, and fished the Allegheny and many of its major tributaries.  Living on a farm and being outdoors naturally led to a career in ecology.  I attended Penn State, Slippery Rock, and Clarion University before receiving my last degree at the University of Illinois.  My formal education ultimately focused on stream ecology and fisheries research.  I’m currently a member of the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited where I coordinate and manage our water quality monitoring programs.  Many of the locations that IFTU is monitoring as part of the 3RQ program are in places that I first visited with my parents while on camping trips in the 60s and 70s. Today I live along the wild and scenic Allegheny River on the south end of Allegheny National Forest and take my son to many of those same, special places.

Sampling Along the PA Route 666, aka the "Devil's Road"

Winter has arrived in the northern Allegheny basin.  Prior to my last sample event in late October, we had been enjoying relatively moderate air temperatures.  Many days were sunny or partly sunny with mild temperatures.  Where I live, in Tionesta, we had seen several days with flurries that did not accumulate or an occasional overnight light dusting of snow.  All that changed on the night before our scheduled water sampling event on November 13th.  In a relatively short period (5 hours) we received 7 inches of snow that slowed local travel.  Fortunately road maintenance was locally good the following morning.  The snow was also localized to the Tionesta area as there was little snow near Meadville, Warren, or Port Allegheny/Eldred.

Sampling over the past few months has been most enjoyable.  Many of the locations I sample are very rural.  While the drive time to complete a collection is long, many of the roads I travel have little to no traffic.  My favorite road when sampling is unquestionably PA Route 666. Known locally as the “Devils Road,” PA 666 parallels Tionesta Creek for about 22 miles from the intersection of 666 with PA 948 (east of Sheffield) to near Kellettville.

666 at Lynch

PA 666 cuts diagonally (northeast to southwest) through the western portion of Allegheny National Forest.  Attractions along its length include parking and easy fishing access at Henrys Mills and the Blue Jay Inn at Lynch.  Further south, one can find one of the ANF’s most pristine streams, Minister Creek.  The Minister Creek watershed has been spared the rigors of development that have befallen much of the rest of the ANF.  The US Forest Service owns the mineral rights in the watershed resulting in it having relatively good water quality and a native Brook Trout population.  There is a campground at the mouth of Minister Creek and a hiking trail leading to sweeping vistas and imposing rock formations.

Continuing south on 666 there are many places to park for fishing, wildlife viewing, or relaxing.  There are also signs of energy development with a highly visible unconventional gas well located beside Tionesta Creek at Mayburg.  Prior to where 666 leaves the Tionesta Creek valley floor two more attractions are located.  The US Army Corps of Engineers campground at Kellettville is located along Tionesta Creek at the mouth of Salmon Creek.  Great camping and recreational opportunities can be found here.  Additionally if one gets thirsty for a cold adult beverage you can venture over to Cougar Bob’s.  This watering hole has been around for many years and has a “charm” all its own.  I won’t elaborate on my experiences there – I’ll just take the 5th on that.

PA 666 eventually intersects US 62 at Endeavor/East Hickory where I continue south to West Hickory and then Tionesta.  All in all it’s a great drive through the ANF. On two occasions while sampling I never passed another car along the entire length of 666.

I invite y’all (or yins, yinz, yunz, you'uns, youns or whatever you prefer) to come for a drive on the Devil’s Road and experience some of scenic beauty of the largest National Forest in the eastern US!

Frigid Temps Slow Down Monitoring Efforts

Allegheny at Tionesta February 2014
The Allegheny River at Tionesta in February 2014

There’s just one word to describe conditions in the Northern Allegheny - frigid.  Our weather has been extremely cold for the last 6 weeks.  Like much of the region we have seen temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit for upwards of a week at a time.  This has resulted in our monitoring efforts grinding to a halt. 

IFTU and our partners have not been able to retrieve loggers or take stream readings because local streams are completely covered by ice from bank to bank.  In many cases smaller streams also have anchor ice.  That is ice that forms on the stream bed.   Even the Allegheny is iced over in many areas and ice jams are common in areas where the channel narrows and riffles are present.  At Tionesta a large ice jam has formed just north of town with massive ice blocks and pressure ridges 15’ high forming mid-channel.  It looks like a mini-glacier- thick ice above with flowing water beneath.   

Bruce Dickson


SONY DSCName
Jason Fillhart

3RQ Region
Monongahela

Affiliation
West Virginia Water Research Institute

Jason Fillhart's Introduction

I first offer greetings to all occupiers of the Mon, Allegheny, and Ohio River Watersheds. My name is Jason Fillhart and I am an Environmental Scientist for the West Virginia Water Research Institute.  I have been sampling the for the 3 Rivers QUEST program for a little shy of two years. My area of coverage includes the Pennsylvania sites for the Monongahela watershed. A few of the routinely sampled tributaries that may be easily recognized by those searching this website are:  Ten Mile Creek, Dunkard Creek, and of course, the Youghiogheny River.

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania in a small farm community located between Punxsutawney and DuBois. After High School, I attended Thiel College in Greenville, PA where I earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Environmental Science. While at Thiel, I completed two internships with the Pennsylvania Department of Health that focused on water quality. Upon graduation, I worked in private consulting for approximately six years.

After plenty of experience in the working world, I decided to go back to school. I enrolled at Slippery Rock University where I eventually earned two Masters Degrees. One is a Master’s of Education in Environmental Education and the other is a Master’s of Science in Resource Management. I am also a few credits shy of a Master’s in Earth and Space Science.  Directly following grad school, I worked as an intern for the American Chestnut Foundation. At the ACF I helped prepare a plot of property in Sewickley, PA that would eventually house over 300 hybrid American Chestnuts. At the time, this was the largest planting in a municipal park facilitated by the American Chestnut Foundation.

Strikingly close to this programs namesake, before coming to WVWRI I worked as an educator for a program in Pittsburgh called “RiverQuest,” essentially a large boat or “floating classroom.” There my colleagues and I taught K through college aged students on topics such as river chemistry, macro- invertebrates, watersheds, and history (as it pertains to the rivers and the development of the city).  In my spare time I revel in a host of activities and hobbies that get me outdoors. I enjoy hiking with my large chocolate lab and I am an avid fly-fisherman. I spend a good amount of time in North central PA where I have a camp on a great stretch of productive fly-fishing water.

I look forward to being a contributing blogger and sharing some of my experiences and stories!

Jason

A Little Mon History

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania did not lend me much familiarity with the Monongahela River.  I recognized the name, but only in the aspect that the Mon, along with the Allegheny, converge at the “Point” in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.  Many "non-Pittsburgh-ers" identify this area with the location of the baseball and football stadiums and/or the fountain at Point State Park.  It is safe to say that many PA residents would not be able to ascertain which river they were on if given the opportunity.

Both the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers are unique in the fact that they each flow north at one point and they pass through two states. Formed by the confluence of the Tygart and West Fork rivers in Marion County, WV, the Mon flows 128 miles north before it meets the Allegheny. The Mon is navigable its entire length with a series of locks and dams that maintain a minimum depth of 9 feet to accommodate barges, often laden with coal.

The history of the Mon, along with the history of the towns and cities along its banks, is endless. From epic battles, to steamboats and navigation, to the antiquity of the steel industry, to the imprint of the coal industry, the Mon holds a boundless collection of stories and narratives in its flows.

Here are just a few snippets of history to consider: 1) At Monongah, just above Fairmont, the worst mine disaster in American history took approximately 400 lives in 1907;  2) The Braddock expedition was a failed British military expedition which attempted to capture the French Fort Duquesne (the Point in Pittsburgh) in the summer of 1755 during the French and Indian War.  The British were crushed at the Battle of the Monongahela on July 9, and the survivors retreated; 3) The Homestead Strike was an industrial lockout and strike which culminated in a battle with casualties between strikers and private security agents on July 6, 1892. The battle was one of the most serious disputes in U.S. labor history, second only to the Battle of Blair Mountain.

The health and vitality of the Mon itself is also a tale to be told. Prior to the 1970’s, there were very few environmental regulations concerning American waterways. The Mon was a collection point for a host of different wastes. Industrial effluents from steel mills, mine drainage, municipal sewage and landfill operations, and non-point sources (agricultural, suburban and urban run-off) all influenced the decline in quality of the Mon River.  In 1967, for example, fish biologists from the PA Fish and Boat Commission performed fish surveys between a few of the lock and dam systems near Pittsburgh. At that time, they found a whopping 0...yes, ZERO species of fish during their electro-shock surveys! 

Quite the opposite, recent (2010) surveys have produced as many as 33 fish species now thriving in those same areas, many of which are valued species for sport fishermen visiting the river. The Mon has made a substantial resurgence, as evidenced by the fact that Pennsylvanians Chose the Monongahela as 2013 River of the Year.

Jason