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Student’s Research Helps Stem Pollution, Erosion from Rainwater Drainage

by Robert Abare '13
Carolyn Macek
Environmental Studies major Carolyn Macek ’14 also was a standout goalie on Davidson’s field hockey team.

A capstone project of senior Environmental Studies major Carolyn Macek '14 is helping Davidson manage rainwater drainage on campus. Macek has installed water level sensors in three streams flowing through campus to measure the effect of rain showers on the local environment.

Macek's interest in rainwater drainage arose from her participation on the field hockey team. "Our team plays on the AstroTurf at Belk Turf Field," she explained. "I learned that the water used to maintain the artificial grass drains to local streams, which piqued my interest in studying the effect of drainage."

Macek's advisor, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Bradley Johnson, suggested Macek widen her focus from athletic field drainage to encompass all campus drainage, which runs through three streams on college property. They are located behind Baker Sports complex, near Patterson Court and in the Ecological Preserve.

Early in the semester, Macek and Johnson partially dammed each stream and placed water level sensors in the reservoirs they created. The sensors help determine how quickly rainwater runoff on campus travels to these streams, which has an effect on the pace of erosion and how quickly pollutants enter the local environment.

Macek explained that each of the three streams receives rainwater from a different drainage area. The stream behind Baker Sports complex collects water from the concrete expanse of Baker Parking Lot. The stream in the Ecological Preserve is fed by a completely wooded, natural area. The stream near Patterson court carries water from a mixture of these two types of drainage areas.

"Studying the water level of streams in these three types of environments will help determine the different drainage challenges posed by each situation," Macek explained.

Brad Johnson
Assistant Professor Brad Johnson is an expert on landslides in the Rocky Mountains, but is working closer to home in the campus stream drainage study.

Proper drainage systems help minimize local flooding, erosion, and the transfer of pollutants into ecosystems. Physical Plant will use Macek's study to help inform the drainage plan for Davidson's campus and surrounding environment, which includes the recent construction of a retention bond at Baker Sports Complex. Depending on the results of Macek's study, Physical Plant may build a second pond near Patterson Court.

The sensors Macek installed consist of a metal pipe hammered into the stream bed, with an instrument inside the pipe that measures variations in water level. The instrument relays the level to a data storage device where it can later be downloaded and interpreted. "The sensors record water level data every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day," Macek explained.

Johnson acquired the data logging devices at no cost from a colleague who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, and after Macek wraps up her project in February, the sensors may be used in other Environmental Studies research.

"Both my advisor and I are very excited with the way my project is turning out," Macek said. "I'm getting concrete, applicable results, so it's nice to know that my project is definitely going to have an impact on the local community."

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