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EPA aids Alabama students’ well water project

A student-led team from the University of Alabama has received a federal award for its research and efforts to help private well owners in Alabama predict and identify the risk of water contamination after flooding.

The UA team is one of just 21 student teams funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for research and innovative solutions to address environmental and public health challenges as part of the latest round of EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet, or P3, Program. Each team receives up to $25,000 to help them develop their proof of concept and will be eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to further implement their designs.

The UA project will develop a flood-induced contamination risk assessment model for Alabama’s underserved Black Belt region using spatial analysis and known private well locations. It will also develop user-friendly water quality testing packets with educational materials to bring awareness to the threats of well-water contamination. The materials will detail flood recovery protocol, risks of microbial contamination and emergency contact information.

Direct beneficiaries of the project include state and local water quality regulators, governments and the general public in addition to private well owners.

“Private well owners are responsible for ensuring the safety of their well water,” said Dr. Leigh Terry, team advisor and assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “Our goal is to empower the larger well water user community to both better understand their drinking water quality and take action after that quality has been degraded.”

Jourdan Kiaupa, a graduate student, leads the team, which is advised by Terry and Dr. Nate Jones, UA assistant professor of biological sciences. Dr. Nikaela Flournoy, an assistant professor of biology at Miles College, is also assisting on the project, along with Miles student Jaylin Jones. Justus King, a student from the University of Arkansas was part of the team over the summer as part of a National Science Foundation program that brought him to Tuscaloosa. More UA students are expected to join the team this fall.

The students will perform the well water sampling, analysis and kit testing under Jones and Terry’s mentorship and supervision.

In addition to developing a spatial analysis model and providing educational materials, the team will also determine the efficacy of pre-manufactured water quality testing strips by collecting samples from UA’s monitoring wells. The project will include a final report and model to identify areas in the state at risk of well contamination.

“The project brings engineers and scientists together to improve public health, empower individual well owners and improve the lives of rural residents across the Gulf Coast,” said Terry.

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