GVSU researchers work with municipalities on Grand River sampling project

Grand Valley researchers are working this summer with local municipalities to refine a Grand River water quality index.

Peter Wampler, professor of geology, and students Allie Romanski, Madeline Lang and Janelle Cook are involved with efforts to sample and map water quality in the Grand River.

They intend to use the data collected from different locations and under different flow conditions to create what is essentially a report card for the river, Wampler said. The project, which is being done in conjunction with the Making Waves Initiative, has goals that include:

  • Determining which water quality parameters correlate with healthy river conditions based on biological indicators
  • Developing a water quality index that is unique to the Grand River through use of water chemistry and biological indicator data
  • Using the newly developed index to identify essential changes to improve Grand River health
Researchers collect a water sample through a hole in the street used for maintenance.
Researchers collect a water sample earlier in the spring.

One of the researchers' key municipal partners is Allendale Township. Officials with the township's wastewater treatment plant have opened their labs for conducting analysis, Wampler said, noting the township's own analysis typically is done in the mornings, which provides an afternoon window for the GVSU researchers to use the facility.

"They were very supportive, and they like the effort of collaborating with Grand Valley and having students on their site," Wampler said, adding, "They do really important work there and that is often not widely appreciated."

Gary Nestle, wastewater supervisor for Allendale Township, said the data collected by Grand Valley is of value to his team. While there is stringent monitoring of what comes out of the discharge pipe at the township's wastewater plant, there is also interest in the health of the entire watershed, Nestle said.

"The partnership is a natural alignment; what the university research is testing falls in line with the same parameters that we test," Nestle said.

Student researchers have worked under the tutelage of Tyler Vereeke, '18, a laboratory technician for Allendale Township. Vereeke worked with students to impart the proper methods of laboratory testing of such substances as ammonia and phosphorus.

"They're able to perform laboratory work at a very high standard, which is really important for good data," Vereeke said.

A water sample is collected.
A researcher records information from a water sample on a paper chart.

Vereeke, who earned a GVSU degree in biology, said it is rewarding to work with Lakers and help them see the career possibilities in this field while providing a meaningful field learning experience.

Romanski, a biochemistry major who is working on the project under the summer scholars program as well as through a NASA space grant, said the work with Vereeke in a professional laboratory has provided valuable experience.

The field work has also rounded out the learning experience by helping to connect the dots by seeing different aspects of the river, which has a range of environments from rural to urban, Romanski said. While studying oceans was always a lure, Romanski said, Grand Valley has helped develop an interest in freshwater.

"Grand Valley is a water-centered school," Romanski said. "I've always been intrigued by the water and interested to know what I can do to help with the health of water."

Researchers collect a sample from a bridge.

The information Romanski and the rest of the GVSU research team is gathering about the Grand River is also part of a cooperative sampling effort with the City of Grand Rapids, Wampler said.

At least quarterly since 1970, the city has been sampling the river from north of the city limits to Eastmanville in Ottawa County, said Carrie Rivette, wastewater/stormwater maintenance superintendent.

That robust historical record is beneficial for Grand Valley researchers, while the GVSU sampling data provides the city with additional insights on the river, Rivette said. One confirmation the GVSU data provides is that sedimentation is coming from rural areas, she said.

"Everyone assumes runoff coming from the city, but sedimentation is coming upstream and downstream of the city," Rivette said.


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