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November 6, 2008

ULM professor to monitor potential pollutants in Louisiana’s waterways

State and federal agencies recently awarded the University of Louisiana Monroe more than $400,000 in grant funding to monitor water quality and educate the public about ways to reduce non-point source pollution, according to Dr. Kevin N. Baer, head of ULM’s Department of Toxicology.

Non-point source pollution (NPS), unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many widespread sources, and is caused by rainfall moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them in bayous, rivers, lakes, wetlands, coastal waters, and even underground sources of drinking water.

“They are a major problem in the environment and hard to control,” said Dr. Baer.

Toxicology undergraduate and graduate students will participate in the grant-funded programs provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

LDEQ officials approved close to $84,000 for Baer and his students to determine what is contributing to the unacceptable water quality in the Big Creek area of Grant Parish, near Alexandria. They will monitor along the Big Creek watershed to identify potential sources of contamination.

“Unacceptable water quality has already been observed by officials, and because Big Creek is a drinking water source and an outstanding natural resource, we’ll want to determine what is contributing to the problem as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Baer.

A second grant, approved by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, provided combined funding of $328,029 over a 42-month period to identify and reduce non-point source pollutants to Bayou Desiard in the Ouachita River Basin.

Baer said residential areas along Bayou Desiard provide nonpoint source pollutant loading, primarily due to storm water runoff and the use of agricultural chemicals. Grease and oil runoff from Monroe’s city streets and other paved areas are another source, he said.

Activities for the project will involve targeted water quality monitoring during rain events, known as a “first flush,” which generally contains the highest level of pollutants, to identify the major categories of NPS pollution and locations.

Once those categories are identified, best management practices may be implemented, including infrastructure improvements, according to Dr. Baer. The project will track water quality improvement to determine if the programs have been successful.

Structural improvements could include vegetated practices, such as basin landscaping and parking lot planting areas, or asphalt paving that literally soaks up the rainfall and helps the city to avoid areas of runoff. Building pervious parking lots around businesses and waterfront yards in residential areas will increase awareness of successful best management practices implementation, according to Baer.

Other educational programs will address nutrient and pesticide management for home and golf courses, sediment and erosion control practices for construction sites, and public awareness on the impact of fecal coliform bacteria to area water bodies.

In addition, storm drain marking programs will educate the public about how storm water runoff enters drains. Surveys will also be developed to measure the performance of education programs impacting Bayou Desiard, said Baer.

However, a Quality Assurance Project Plan must be submitted to officials for review before any monitoring can begin.

“This is a detailed and lengthy process,” acknowledged Baer.

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