Nov 082009
Authors: Lauren Leete

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded CSU professors Mazdak Arabi and Reagan Waskom a total of $1.2 million to fund projects concerning Colorado’s water resources.

Since Colorado’s 2002 drought, Colorado stakeholders have raised concerns about how much water the state will retain for itself and how much water it will allocate to the other 18 states which rely on its supply, including Arkansas, Utah, California and Kansas.

But quantity is not the only issue of the water crisis rearing its head, and the lack of education concerning the pollution affecting water quality is concerning, said agricultural and resource economics professor and Colorado Water Institute member Chris Goemans.

“In the western United States, the predominant issue is water quantity – ‘Are we going to have enough?’ — but lurking in the darkness, about ready to explode is the water quality issue,” Goemans said.

Waskom, a professor in civil engineering and crop and soil science and director of the Colorado Water Institute, received a $667,000 grant from the USDA for his project in its second year.

It aims to address the water quality issue through working with five other land-grant institutions from North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.

“We are coordinating across the six states of EPA Region 8 to learn from each other, avoid duplication of effort and to bring a collaborative approach to water research, outreach and education,” Waskom said in an e-mail interview.

Waskom said he hopes their efforts, collaborating with more faculty, students and partners, will help educate the public and inform them of the impact their actions carry in a more cost-effective manner.

He said Colorado is lucky as an upstream state to have very good water quality, but there are still pollutants that enter back into the stream from:

mercury deposits in lakes,

selenium due to irrigation return flows and runoff,

nitrogen deposits in high altitude lakes,

sediment runoff from

construction sites, and

pharmaceuticals and personal care products in waste water.

“I’d like people to understand the footprint that their choices place upon our environment — choices about consumption, energy, waste disposal, recycling and water use,” Waskom said. “I believe that if people understand the impact of their individual actions and if they are given viable alternatives, many will choose to make wiser choices.”

Arabi, a civil and environmental engineering professor, developed an online support tool with a $615,000 grant from the USDA called eRAMs to help alleviate the flow of sediments, nutrients and pesticides/into water that affect not only the stream ecology but also human health.

The water quality issue can be overcome through preventative conservation practices to minimize these types of pollutions, Arabi said. Such practices include reducing the rate of use/for fertilizers and pesticides and building detention basins for sediments.

The eRAMs Web site will fuse together all sides of the water issue including socioeconomic, environmental and institutional factors to assist in sound decision-making when planning landscape positions and types of abatement strategies, he said.

“While each year billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds are spent to implement conservation practices, the eRAMS technology will provide scientifically sound solutions to maximize the environmental benefits gained per dollar spent on implementation of practices,” Arabi/said./

The innovative aspect of eRAMs is the user doesn’t need any additional software or hardware to use the program. It’s an open-source Web site available to the community and can be applied to a variety of watersheds.

The program now is focused on the South Platte River basin in Colorado, and will be further expanded to the St. Joseph River basin in Indiana and Neuse River basin in North Carolina, Arabi said, where/elevated levels of sediments and nutrients are major water quality concerns.

“Models like this allow us to understand the impacts of the choices that we make . (and) identify which particular policies we use (and) how they impact water quality,” Goemans said. “(They) catch us up on what we need to do in order to make these decisions.”

Staff writer Lauren Leete can be reached at

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