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    Breaking down water: Who does that?

    Breaking down water: Who does that?

    Photo By Trisha Dorsey | Marvin Boyer, Kansas City District’s limnologist, adds media to water samples while...... read more read more



    Story by Trisha Dorsey 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When you think about visiting any of the district’s 18 lakes, what comes to mind? Boating, fishing, swimming, and camping?

    Do you ever think about the water pulled from the lake to support the local municipalities? Do you wonder about the quality or how the water is tested to ensure it’s safe for humans, plants and animals?

    Many are not aware that the Kansas City District has a robust Water Quality Program. In addition to the 18 lake projects, this program is responsible for monitoring surface water quality issues related to watersheds, Civil Works projects and the lower Missouri River. Through this program, staff ensure the quality of the water is suitable for project purposes, existing water uses and public health and safety standards.

    Serving as the only long-term monitoring effort within the district’s lake project watersheds, this program compiles data vital to determining long-term trends relative to state and federal water quality standards, watershed conditions, recreational conditions and drinking water quality. A limnologist housed in the Planning Branch and supported by the Operations Division for funding and project staff assistance oversees this program.

    “Water quality is an integral component of all Corps Civil Works missions,” said Marvin Boyer, Kansas City District’s limnologist. “My job is very unique. I work in a cubical, a lab and in the field to help inform decision makers at local, state and federal levels.”

    So what exactly does a limnologist do? A limnologist studies physical, chemical and biological conditions and interactions in freshwater. Sampling water helps scientists identify baseline conditions and trends so corrective measures can be taken. Boyer describes a simplified example of the importance of interactions observed in an algae bloom, “Phosphorus concentrations [chemistry] and sunlight penetration into the water [physical properties] are directly related to the biology of algae populations and whether dominant species are beneficial to the food web or detrimental types that may produce toxins”.

    In April, Boyer kicked off the sampling season by testing waters at each lake project site. He will collect monthly samples through September. If testing identifies water quality deficiencies, or there is reason to question the quality, sample collection occurs more frequently.

    “We have a large volume of water stored in our 18 lake projects,” said Boyer. “Sediments, nutrients and contaminants enter these projects. While some contaminates leave through the lake outflows, others are stored in the reservoirs. We inherit the stored water and are responsible for what leaves our property. Monitoring water quality not only insures it is safe for humans and animals, but is critical to support the wide range of uses that depend on Corps projects for water.”

    On a typical summer sampling day, Boyer starts his week in the Kansas City District office coordinating schedules with park rangers before packing up equipment and making the trek to several lakes for the week. Current weather predictions, recent precipitation measurements and potential water quality issues are evaluated in order to prepare adequate samples and scheduling. If Boyer needs assistance, a biologist from the Planning Branch will accompany him.

    In one week, he may visit three location in the same general area such as Pomme de Terre, Stockton and Truman lakes. In order to accommodate for weather and climate impacts, which can impose changes to scheduled monitoring efforts, Boyer and team must keep a flexible schedule.

    Upon arrival at a lake project office, a park ranger greets Boyer and joins the sampling effort. Using boats, they work together to sample the main arms of the lake looking at physical profiles (temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, conductivity, salinity and suspended solids) using special instruments. These measures are taken at every lake meter, providing a profile of the conditions from top to bottom. Chemical samples follow next, primarily checking for nutrient, sediment, herbicides, chlorophyll concentration and metals. Biological components like algae/cyanobacteria counts, algal toxin and bacteria are other important measures taken situationally for recreational advisories. They finish with samples form inflow streams (bridge crossings) and outflow below the dam to complete the picture.

    So, what happens after the samples are collected? Contract laboratories perform chemical analysis of samples. Boyer reviews this data monthly and adds it to the public webpage twice a year. Physical water quality results are managed in-house and updated to the public webpage monthly. Bacteria and algae toxin data is used for situational management on a case by case basis. Some data is processed quickly and others take a month or more. For example, E. coli results are typically completed in 24 hours while algae identification may take three to four weeks. It is important to identify some deficiencies quicker than others, especially when public health risks are a concern.

    Sharing district water quality data and expertise is important to the Water Quality Program success. The primary Engineering Regulation outlining the Corps’ Water Quality and Environmental Management activities describes the water quality program as “…one of the greatest opportunities for the Corps to demonstrate its commitment to environmental leadership, conservation, restoration and stewardship.” Boyer and his crew portray stewardship through collaboration with other federal, state, local and non-government agencies regarding water quality issues at Corps projects.
    One example of partnering and collaboration is working with state and watershed conservation groups, such as the Kansas Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy, often referred to as WRAPS. This group relies on Corps’ data to help prioritize best practices for their efforts, terraces, grass waterways, retention ponds, no-till farming practices and herbicide education programs. Watershed conservation efforts are the foundation of nutrient reduction designed to help manage harmful algae blooms.

    “Through partnerships, we’ve seen results of watershed conservation efforts by sharing our water quality data to help others prioritize their conservation practices and funding. We’ve noticed improvements in overall water quality and decreased atrazine levels in select Kansas streams due to reduced sediment levels and improved herbicide management following new conservation efforts by the state,” said Boyer. “The Kansas City District’s Water Quality Program data has evolved into a reliable source of long-term data for states to help designate and manage impaired waters to help reduce non-point sources of pollution impacting streams and lakes.”

    Boyer’s expertise is also instrumental in finding solutions for the growing problems associated with harmful algae blooms, reducing farming impacts on water quality, shoreline or streambank erosion, large recreational events such as triathlons, dam maintenance repairs, fish kills and findings of invasive species.

    “Water quality concerns seem to be on the rise in the district and in the nation as zebra mussels and blue-green algae become established and drastic changes in lakes are observed,” said Boyer.

    While eradication of invasive species is unlikely, Boyer supports project lakes by monitoring water quality implications associated with invasive species management and prevention. Recent examples include zebra mussel treatments at Truman, Smithville and Pomona lakes. Fish kills occur from natural, physical or chemical causes. If this happens at one of the 18 lake projects it is typically a natural cause, such as low dissolved oxygen or fish injuries associated with dam operations. A sewage treatment plant breach or overflow entering one of the inflow streams would also cause a fish kill from a loss of oxygen due to bacterial decomposition. Most district lakes have minimal risk of chemical fish kills other than rare herbicide or fertilizer spills due to agriculture and forests dominating our watersheds.

    Once the summer sampling season is over, it’s time to manage and share all the water quality data collected. “The diversity between the sample planning and collection, data analysis and reporting is what I really enjoy,” said Boyer. “The report writing communicates my efforts, assesses concerns and provides products to benefit data users, such as the Operations Branch and our partnering agencies.”

    On a typical winter day, Boyer compiles all data collected and works to combine it into a standardized format while finding the best way to summarize and describe it. The data is often portrayed graphically since “a sea of numbers” can be confusing to most.

    “One of the biggest challenges of the job is to relay very technical information comparing recent samples to a trend and or baseline data in a format that project managers and lake users can understand and use,” said Boyer.

    “Our program vision is to efficiently and effectively implement the water quality management requirements of Engineering Regulations and provide the needed technical support on surface water quality issues to effectively plan and operate actives at Corps projects,” said Boyer. “Our efforts and role as water quality technical experts support operational decisions related to state and federal water quality regulations based on the Clean Water Act, help maintain function of authorized purposes and protect human health and the environment. As the district’s limnologist, I’m thrilled to be part of this rigorous scientific team.”



    Date Taken: 09.14.2016
    Date Posted: 09.14.2016 11:07
    Story ID: 209537
    Location: KANSAS CITY, MO, US 

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