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Cumulative Effects of Drought and Urbanization on the Flint River Watershed


The overall purpose of this project is to develop strategies and/or tools for effective education and outreach efforts related to water resources for producers, managers, and the public. Our specific objectives are to: <OL> <LI> Investigate the effect of local land use change on hydrological processes in the watershed. a. Model water quantity resources in the watershed, specifically surface water, integrating cover land cover patterns. b.Develop a model of land use/cover change <LI> Determine the combined impact of drought and land use change on ecosystem health through assessment of water quality, stream structure and aquatic communities. a. Utilize land use/cover change and hydrological models assess river health under different future scenarios b. Assess current state of river health through analysis of current monitoring programs and supplementary aquatic surveys. c. Develop a river health model for the watershed, integrating stream hydrology models, water chemistry, bio-assessment and physical structure. <LI> Create a new course for lower-division undergraduate students. This class, tentatively titled, "Applied Aquatic Natural Resource Assessment". It will have a field/laboratory component. <LI>Participate in the educational programs through the department such as the Upward Bound program and teach high school students in small groups comprehensively about the ecology and hydrology of the Flint River. <LI>Graduate at least one graduate student and train at least four undergraduate student workers in this area of study during this project's course. <LI> Develop new educational workshops with the Flint River Watershed Coordinator. a. Targeted audiences include homeowner associations, landowners, and commercial developers. b. Proposed programs are septic system maintenance, water conservation, rain gardens, correct erosion control, how to reduce impervious surface and its impacts, how to avoid contributing to non-point-source water pollution in the watershed. <LI>Construct a mobile interactive watershed model based on Oklahoma State Extension program's "Stream Trailer". <LI> Provide support and assist the Watershed Coordinator to accomplish unmet goals described in the Flint River Watershed Management Plan (FRWMP) through 2012. a. Certain objectives including community outreach, riparian restoration, and BMP implementation projects are in need of extra institutional assistance.</ol> Outcomes will include: robust hydrological data describing the groundwater levels, streamflow variation, stormwater impulses, and the relationship models of the interactions between these variables, the impact of drought and urbanization on water quality and quantity; an updated and complete aquatic biological assessment of the Flint River watershed; curriculum development; robust GIS and GPS output describing the land use/land cover and environmental quality variability, a conceptual model of the interaction of LU/LC, population, and urbanization on water quality and quantity; extension fact sheets; presentations at the National Water Quality Conference and at other regional conferences; publications of research results; watershed demonstrations at community events.

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Non-Technical Summary: The long term goal of the Center of Excellence of Watershed Management at Alabama A&M University (AAMU) is to enhance the human health and well being of Flint River Watershed community by advancing environmental knowledge, training a diverse generation of multi-disciplinary scientists, and partnering with community stakeholders to equip them with effective strategies and tools to address water quality and quantity issues in response to urbanization and drought. The overall purpose of this proposed integrated research, education, and extension plan is to develop strategies and/or tools for effective education and outreach efforts related to water resources for producers, managers, and the public. Education and extension efforts will be strengthened through research conducted in studying and evaluating the impacts of urban development and drought upon the Flint River. North Alabama is rich in its water resources, exemplified by the Tennessee River Basin, including the Flint River. There is growing evidence that developed urban landscapes negatively impact streams and its aquatic plants and animals. Declining diversity of living things in streams often results the alteration of stream conditions, loss of crucial habitat, and change in the natural water flow pattern. In north Alabama, there has been an increase in the development and urbanization in the Flint River watershed affecting the water quality, quantity, and its aquatic life forms. The extreme drought that occurred during 2006-2007 led to increased community awareness of the vulnerability of our water resources. This awareness led to anxiety over the quantity and quality of our water supplies as news stories regarding the exhaustion of water supplies in Atlanta, GA circulated nationally in the late summer and autumn. Although Huntsville relies on the Tennessee River to cushion the effect of drought on our drinking water, the impact of drought and increasing urbanization in the Flint River watershed received critical concern among the community. A new study by scientists at Alabama A&M University will investigate the affect of drought and urban development on the land surrounding the Flint River on water quality, quantity and endangered species of freshwater mussels and fish. Researchers will analyze the water chemistry, conduct stream surveys for water pollution, and inventory living creatures in the river. Maps of the vegetation and urban development in the surrounding landscape will assist them in determining the impact on stream quality in various parts of the Flint River. The scientists will also work with government agencies and environmental groups to provide useful information about the effects of land use change on water quality and to put a management plan for the conservation of water resources into action. Additionally, the scientists will train future scientists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to conduct water research to include a wider variety of perspectives and solutions to critical water problems as well as to broaden public support for wise water use. <P> Approach: The proposed study will be conducted in the Flint River watershed located in northern Alabama. Standard methods for stream assessment, water quality and community composition will be used for the research component. Multivariate analysis and hydrological modelling will be used to analyze data. Curriculum development using experiential learning in aquatic ecology will be conducted to strengthem our watershed management education program. A watershed and stream demonstration trailer will be constructed and exhibited to school and community groups to demonstrate concepts in watershed management. We will coordinate with government agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as provide information and financial resources, to implement the Flint River Watershed Management Plan. Satellite images of land cover in the study area will be classified for land use changes over the past 20 years to the present. Ancillary sources of data on human population growth and demographics will also be analyzed to determine urbanization rates. Weather station data will also be utilized to examine trends in drought conditions in the study area and region. Landscape and climatic variables will also be used in multivariate analysis of aquatic habitat and community parameters. Much of the detail in field methods can not be presented here due to space limitations. We will endeavor to increase knowledge and change attitudes and particular behavior patterns of landowners and citizens in the study area by practical demonstrations of water pollution dynamics in a model watershed system (watershed trailer), extension fact sheets, research results, and presentations at community meetings and events (eg., Earth Day and Water Day). Changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors will be assessed in various ways including pre and post surveys of community groups at demonstrations and presentations, frequency of water pollution incidents in the study area will be monitored by state government agencies to assess the impact of our outreach activities, water quality monitoring and research will also provide an assessment of our outreach activities, and student exams following classroom instruction and field experiences will also be used in the education component of this project.

Tsegaye, Teferi
Alabama A&M University
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