TTU helping city planners with environmentally sustainable growth in Obed Watershed region

CommunityMeetingApril22 2013Thanks to funding from the Tennessee Healthy Watershed Initiative — which is led by The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the West Tennessee River Basin Authority — several new projects are being launched across the state to focus on improving and protecting watersheds through innovation and community-based initiatives.

One such project is centered in the Obed Watershed, encompassing Cumberland, Morgan and Fentress counties, and is being led by Tennessee Tech University’s Center for the Management, Utilization and Protection of Water Resources, which is a Center of Excellence in Water Resources. The CMUPWR is working with the city of Crossville, the National Park Service and the Obed Watershed Community Association.

There are other THWI projects in Rutherford, Johnson, Hancock, Knox, Meigs, McMinn, Bradley, Hamilton, Madison, Shelby and Wilson counties, with project goals ranging from making paddling safer in the East Fork of the Stones River to educating landowners and raising public awareness about the importance of land and water conservation.

Tennessee Tech’s Obed Watershed project is threefold. “We plan to develop a user-friendly watershed planning tool, monitor water quality and quantity, and assess the inflow and infiltration conditions in Crossville’s wastewater collection system,” said Dennis George, project leader and director of the CMUPWR.

George and other project investigators teamed with city leaders to introduce the community and other stakeholders to the work during an open meeting in Crossville. Joining George were hydrologist Alfred Kalyanapu, Geographic Information Systems expert Yvette Clark, and TTU civil and environmental engineering seniors Jake Wilson and Jesse Hoover. James Hughes, with the National Park Service, Eric Bradley, with the city of Crossville, and other partners also presented their aspects of the project.

“We want to provide the community a tool to allow help to leaders to make decisions that enable economic growth in the area while sustaining the environment,” George said. “We know that it’s important for community decision makers to consider the interests of all those who use water resources and not upset the holistic balance of those resources during periods of decreased availability.”

TTU is creating the watershed planning tool, which will allow decision makers and developers to assess all the environmental and financial costs involved when land uses and water resource practices change. It will incorporate existing hydrology, meteorology and ecology data, including the National Hydrography Dataset, NexRAD weather data, current and historical U.S. Geological Survey streamflow data, National Park Service water resource monitoring data and the existing CMUPWR knowledge base. To demonstrate the tool’s effectiveness, researchers will use the Obed River Watershed, which is a tributary to the Emory River, as a pilot study.

“Application of the planning tool will enhance decision-making capabilities, leading to a healthy river system and efficient management of streams and rivers, which is crucial for healthy watersheds,” Kalyanapu said.

As part of the tool, Kalyanapu and his student researchers will develop a modeling and simulation process to comprehensively model the Obed Watershed. This will allow the users to simulate and predict the precipitation, infiltration, evaporation and groundwater flow of the region.

In addition to developing the planning tool, the project will also provide more meaningful data on the natural resources and human systems within the region. A small portion of the project funding will be used to keep open some gauging stations that are threatened with defunding. These stations will allow for continuous monitoring, which will provide data to be used in the planning tool’s model and as an immediate alert system for negative impacts to water quality.

“We are also looking at the sewer inflow and infiltration issues in the city of Crossville,” George said. “As part of the larger picture involved in our watershed modeling efforts, we can’t forget the effects of our wastewater systems.”

When leakages within the wastewater collection system occur over time, sewage can leak out and rain water can filter in to join the system and become part of the wastewater flow, putting extra pressure on the wastewater collection system’s ability to properly treat its inflow.

“Depending on the level of infiltration of rain water, the collection system can behave as a kind of man-made watershed, which alters the flows of the natural watersheds,” George said.

To determine the seriousness of these effects, an Inflow and Infiltration study must be done. This data can then be used in deciding how best to repair and when to reconstruct parts of the system and in analyzing the impact of the wastewater collection system on the watershed’s hydrology as a whole.

The Tennessee Tech project will be ongoing through June 2014 and will result in a training workshop for stakeholders who will use the planning tool and more public meetings to increase community awareness about the work. Other TTU students working on the project include Jonathan Trax, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, and Joe Martin, a graduate student in TTU’s new professional science program, with an emphasis in environmental informatics.

“We’re glad we get to be a part of the THWI’s vision,” George said. “We believe our project, as well as the others funded, are in line with the THWI’s important mission of developing ‘sustainable river systems throughout Tennessee in which the streams and rivers are managed to conserve the native species, natural plant communities and ecosystems found in and along the river system while meeting the needs of human communities.’” 

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