UNC Charlotte receives grant to establish watershed observatory

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

UNC Charlotte has received a $76,521 grant to establish a watershed observatory that will document the impact of land use and invasive plant species on Catawba Watershed water quality and quantity and to guide the development of best conservation practices for uplands here and elsewhere.

The University is one of 14 organizations across North and South Carolina to collectively receive more than $1 million in the fifth grant announcement of the Water Resources Fund, a $10 million multi-year commitment from Duke Energy that will leave a legacy of improved water quality, quantity and conservation in the Carolinas and neighboring regions.

“Duke Energy is committed to protecting and restoring the rivers and waterways that are valuable resources for our communities and the regional economy,” said Cari Boyce, president of the Duke Energy Foundation. “We look forward to our partnership with UNC Charlotte and the impact this grant will have in North Carolina.”

Martha Cary Eppes and David Vinson of the Department of Geography & Earth Sciences in UNC Charlotte’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will oversee the watershed work, in partnership with North Carolina Plant Conservation Program and the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

The initiative will establish the Catawba Basin Watershed Observatory, a long-term outdoor laboratory that will monitor water resources and document the environmental history and any changes that occur in the areas under study. The observatory will be located at Redlair, an approximately 1,200-acre property preserved in Gaston County along the South Fork of the Catawba River.

“We need more comprehensive monitoring to fully understand how watersheds with different land use histories respond to different environmental conditions,” said Vinson, a hydrologist specializing in water quality and groundwater-stream interactions. “This project will establish monitoring stations in six representative watersheds with different land use histories and invasive plant species coverage.”

While significant research exists about water quality and quantity in the larger rivers and bottomland, this study will address an important gap in data related to small rivers and upland areas, the researchers said.

“Most of the miles in a river system occur in the small headwater streams, which means that upland watersheds are where most chemicals and sediment enter river systems,” said Eppes, a soil scientist with expertise in soil formation, hillslopes and soil-rock-water interactions that can affect stream water quality. “These pollutants have a significant impact throughout the river systems.”

The monitoring stations will collect groundwater data, stream information and meteorological data. Future work will include documentation of the impact on watersheds of removal of invasive plant species in the areas under study.

The project also will include development of a website, workshops and other steps to inform and educate the public. The observatory monitoring sensors and baseline data will follow common standards that should allow the data to be usable and comparable with data collected by other water researchers in the region and elsewhere.

Investment decisions by the Water Resources Fund are carefully reviewed by the Water Resources Fund committee, an independent body that includes five environmental experts and two Duke Energy employees. Selected projects are chosen on several criteria, including whether the project is science-based and research-supported.

Duke Energy anticipates two grant announcements per year during the course of the Water Resources Fund. Visit nccommunityfoundation.org for more information on how to apply and register for the session.


Photo: Professor Martha Cary Eppes with Mike Hughes, Duke Energy’s vice president of community relations