By Michele McDonald
George Mason University’s streams and retention pond are a working lab for stormwater research that could impact the rest of the state and country.
As climate change brings rising water and floods, much of it laced with pollution, better and faster ways to monitor and clean stormwater are needed. George Mason is part of a national $1.3 million environmental project, funded by the Dominion Foundation.
Mason is located at the headwaters of the Rabbit Branch watershed, which drains into the Chesapeake Bay System. Mason has won three grants from Dominion in as many years to monitor stormwater and develop advanced flood warning and water quality detection methods.
Instruments monitor the quantity of water flowing into streams and Mason Pond after a storm and also the quality, including water temperature, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and nitrate concentration. The portable instruments are outfitted with a GPS to detail the exact location as well as take a photo of what’s happening in the stream.
Celso Ferreira and Viviana Maggioni––Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering professors in the Volgenau School of Engineering––are leading the project.
Ferreira began working with the Dominion Foundation in 2013 to look at disaster protection from flooding and has expanded the work to include water quality and smart networks, which would be able to tell when it’s raining and ultimately provide detailed early flood warnings.
The professors plan to work with Mason facilities and share future data, said Maggioni, who’s from Milan, Italy and began working at Mason about 18 months ago. The collected data will be shared through the Mason Water Data Information System.
“If we keep building on our campus that will have impact on the water quality,” Maggioni said.
The Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering professors also are working with electrical engineering professors, including Nathalia Peixoto, and Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science professor Paul Houser, to create a smart network that Ferreira envisions could tell drivers in the future, perhaps through a cell phone app, which intersections are flooded.
“The goal is to make the system more efficient and cheaper,” said Ferreira, who’s been at Mason for three years and hails from San Paulo, Brazil. “It could go globally. It could go anywhere.”
Plus, the project is helping students get their hands wet in the field.
Audrey Nerette is a rising sophomore civil engineering major from Haiti who won a summer research experience for undergraduate students internship to work on the project.
“I would like to come back to Haiti and help with the waste water system there,” she said.
She’d also like to combine architecture studies with a civil engineering degree.
“I like the fact that I’m starting to know what working in my field would look like.”
Civil engineering major Renee Nmair is working on the project as a summer intern with funding from Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research.
“It’s giving me a lot of hands-on experience,” said Nmair, an Ohio native who comes from a family of engineers (her sister also is a Mason engineering student). “It’s helping me decide whether to go into water or infrastructure engineering.”
She is also applying what she learned in environmental science and water resources classes at Mason.
From the drought in California to the rising coastline along the East Coast, water is playing out in different ways across the country.
“Water is important in our world,” Maggioni said. “We are used to using water without thinking about it, and that’s changing now.”