Part of the Knowing Our Waters Project
By Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research and Engagement
In October 2014, FracTracker launched The Knowing Our Waters project (with the support of the Colcom Foundation) in order to highlight the important role of non-governmental water monitoring programs in the Marcellus Shale. Since the widespread emergence of this monitoring community, which began around 2010, many dedicated volunteers and nonprofit organizations have worked tirelessly to protect our watersheds from the potential impacts of oil and gas extraction—often in their own spare time and supported by their own personal resources.
The Knowing Our Waters project offered a window into this community through interactive maps, rich photographs and videos, and, most importantly, through the stories of those who spend their time collecting data in the region’s many watersheds. In this final installment of the Knowing Our Waters series, we interviewed four leaders in the water monitoring community to hear their perspectives on how this field has evolved, what its present challenges are, and where water monitoring in the Marcellus Shale is headed.
Julie Vastine is the Director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM). ALLARM, based out of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, has provided capacity building assistance to Pennsylvania communities to monitor, protect, and restore local waterways since 1986. ALLARM encourages communities to use science as a tool to investigate the health of their streams and to use the data they generate for aquatic protection and restoration efforts. Since 2010, ALLARM has hosted more than 60 training workshops across Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia, to assist communities in monitoring the potential impacts of shale gas extraction.
Melissa O’Neal is the Program Manager for Three Rivers QUEST (Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams), or 3RQ, based at the WV Water Research Institute at West Virginia University. 3RQ manages a program of bi-weekly water quality sampling in the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Upper Ohio river basins with research partners at Wheeling Jesuit University, Duquesne University, and the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited. 3RQ also assists dozens of community-based water monitoring programs in collecting and managing data on conductivity, pH, and water temperature. Collectively, these programs provide a better overall picture of the health of the three river basins.
Melissa Reckner is the Director of the Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team, formed in 1998 by the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy. The Stream Team’s goals are to educate and engage citizen stewards in maintaining, enhancing and restoring the natural resources of the Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin, which encompasses portions of Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties of Pennsylvania. Supported by strong partnerships with watershed organizations and citizen volunteers, the Stream Team manages over 230 sampling sites, monitors 40 AMD treatment systems, provides technical assistance to partner organizations, and works with schools on connecting students to nature.
Dr. Ben Stout is a Professor of Biology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, and a FracTracker board member. As an ecologist, Dr. Stout’s focus has been on understanding the interrelations between aquatic organisms and their environment. He is particularly interested in wetlands and headwater streams, home to valuable but also threatened ecosystems. Dr. Stout is also a long-time vocal advocate for monitoring these watersheds for the potential impacts of oil and gas extraction. Much of his research is dedicated to identifying high levels of bromide, a substance that can contribute to the formation of carcinogenic trihalomethanes, in streams and rivers near fracking operations. Dr. Stout also spearheads the water quality monitoring effort of 3RQ in the Upper Ohio River Basin.