Snow Fork Creek
Snow Fork Creek shows signs of acid mine drainage outside of Murray City, Ohio.
Photo by Isaac Hale for the Water Project.

Voinovich Researchers Partner with Scripps for New OU Water Project

Madison Koenig
October 29, 2014

Although they all work on one campus, it can sometimes seem as though each school at Ohio University is aware only of its individual research and goals. Over the last year, however, one project has joined six OHIO schools over a crucial resource: water.

The OU Water Project, a collaboration among the five schools of Scripps College, tells important stories about regional water issues using journalism, video, photography, and graphic design. It also is an interactive website including features such as the location map that allows users to layer maps of watersheds, rivers, water flow, state parks, urban areas, and places of energy extraction over a map of the Appalachian Ohio Valley.

The website is meant to be a clearinghouse for information about regional water issues, explained Andy Alexander, Scripps Howard Visiting Professor and one of the leaders of the Water Project. "The website is intended in its current form to not only be informative, in a primer type of sense, basically educate people to what the issues are," he said. "It's also intended to be superb storytelling."

Scripps students provided the storytelling and interactive skills, but the scientific information and geographic data came from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

Natalie Kruse, assistant professor of Environmental Studies, met with the Scripps students during early educational meeting, when students received an overview of the issues. She also guided them to other researchers at the Voinovich School and in the area, covering a wide range of topics including irrigation, sewage, and acid mine drainage.

"As the water and environmental group here at the School, we've got a lot of connections and a lot of history in water research in the region," Kruse said. "It's about orienting this group of students to what's happening in the region, who the players are, who to talk with to find out about what's happening in the region about water."

Through Kruse, Scripps student Jen Doyle connected with Renee Reber, a graduate of the Voinovich School's environmental studies program. Reber's capstone project explored whether acid mine drainage in Snow Fork Creek, outside Murray City, Ohio, could mitigate the E. coli bacteria in the water. Sewage in Murray City drains directly into the creek, and locals argued that the acid killed any bacteria. The city worried that it did not have the resources to build and maintain an entire sewage treatment facility, and viewed the stream as a viable alternative. Doyle summarized the conflict in an article titled "Legacy," drawing on Reber's research to provide crucial understanding of the science behind the politics.

Reber's work was the kind of information members of the Water Project team were looking for, and the Voinovich School was more than happy to oblige.

WOUB now hosts the Water Project website, and Alexander hopes this partnership will make the website more accessible. "The idea is that if there's breaking news about water, people will naturally go to the WOUB site and then go to the Water Project website." Alexander said that the next goal for the project is to strengthen its connection with the community by publishing stories that "increase community dialogue about these issues."

Kruse hopes it will increase dialogue among researchers as well, by serving as a clearinghouse for water experts to share their work with one another. She noted that Voinvoich School researchers not only do firsthand research on water issues, such as acid mine drainage cleanup or hydraulic fracturing, but also have connections to other groups in the area doing similar work.

It is the universality of water that will draw people to the website, Kruse explained. "Water definitely unites a lot of people, so one of the real benefits of the site is that it connects people to the environment and to the issues in this region through something that does affect all of us."

Meanwhile, Kruse and other Voinovich researchers continue to collaborate with Scripps on this project.

"One of the things that's really exciting to me is now we're starting to ask ourselves, how does communication studies work into this, how does information and telecommunication systems work into this, and how can we work to connect the [Voinovich] School and our water research with these many different parts," she said.

See the Water Project website at www.ouwaterproject.org.