Green Guide

Arkansas State University researches water quality

Posted September 11

— What is in the water?

It's a question Amber Ruby, of Clover, South Carolina, is helping to answer with her new position at Arkansas State University's Ecotoxicology Research Facility.

"Basically everything we do we come into contact with water in some shape or another and it's not an infinite resource that you kind of think it is," said Ruby, who is working toward a master's degree in environmental science. "Our planet is 75 percent water but that is a lot of salt water and we particularly require fresh water, which is ground water. The products that we do in this lab really focus on the watersheds themselves and the water we are going to consume or we are giving to our animal or products we are making."

The Jonesboro Sun reports that The facility opened in 1996 and maintains certification through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its staff conducts research through about $4.5 million in EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture grants regarding nutrients and sediments in area watersheds.

All of the facility's work is focused on water quality. It provides a variety of water quality testing services including whole effluent toxicity (WET) testing to see what pollutants are in a facility's wastewater. Jennifer Bouldin became its director in 2006.

"What we expanded on is now people have to do stormwater testing on their stormwater runoff from their parking lot or from their facility," she said. "So we have quite a few stormwater clients, too."

She describes the facility as unique due to the clients it serves, which include the university, Jonesboro City Water and Light as well as Paragould City Light, Water and Cable.

The facility employs two part-time and two full-time technicians, four master's degree students and three PhD students. Bouldin said students work alongside her technicians to learn how to conduct the testing until they gain enough experience to complete the work themselves.

That testing involves students helping to constantly breed fathead minnows and Ceriodaphnia dubia, a species of water flea that is used in testing water quality.

While some people say those in this line of work will one day be out of a job due to advances in the field, Bouldin said she frequently receives calls from employers at state agencies and private companies who need workers.

"It is amazing how many students have gotten out of here, either undergraduates or graduates, and gotten a job because they were experienced in the WET testing," Bouldin said.

That work is what drew Ruby to Arkansas State and its facility.

Ruby said it was luck a position was open when she arrived at the Jonesboro campus. She said she had done a little bit of research with some amphibians and water quality testing and wanted to broaden her knowledge.

"There is so much to learn. There is so much going on," she added. "I think it is cool that there is a lot of contract testing going on. We do a lot of testing for businesses in the area, which is pretty fabulous, because I am getting hands-on work with some of the businesses in the area as well as undertaking my own research."

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