USGS Water Activities in South Carolina - Update

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An update on USGS Water activities in South Carolina as SC Water Science Center Director Eric Strom is interviewed by SC Public Radio ‘Your Day’ host, Donna London.

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Transcript

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Ray Douglas: Today on Water Science for a changing world a rebroadcast interview from the 2010 South Carolina Water Resources Convention. This podcast appears courtesy of the South Carolina Public Radio program YourDay.

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Diana Daniels: Welcome to this Thursday's edition of YourDay. We will learn about the work of the U.S. Geological Survey when Donna London talks with Eric Strom Director of the South Carolina Water Science Center, and a participant in the 2010 South Carolina Water Resources Conference.

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Diana Daniels: This is YourDay I am Diana Daniels. Thank You for joining us today. We begin with an update on the work of the U.S. Geological Survey with Donna London director of the Jim Self Center on the Future.

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Donna London: I am speaking with Mr. Eric Strom. He is the director of the USGS South Carolina Water Science Center, USGS U.S. Geological Survey.

Eric Strom: That's correct.

London: Welcome Mr. Strom.

Strom: Thank You. Good to be back.

London: Good to see you again. It's been two years since we were here before.

Strom: That's right.

London: You know when we think of the USGS the U.S. Geological Survey we think of maps. I know that's a very small part of all of the work that you do to put together information in a visual fashion for people, give our listeners a sense of what goes on in your office. I know your headquarters is in Columbia, but you've got extensions out there across the State.

Strom: That's right. Our main office is in Columbia, South Carolina in the State, but we've also have an office in Sullivan's  Island, we have an office at Clemson, and we also have an office in Conway near Myrtle Beach. As you mentioned we're very much known for our maps and I think we are very much known for our work with earthquakes and our work with volcanos. We may be less known for our work with biology, but we do quite a bit of biology as well. Also water resources in this State primarily what we do is water resource work.

London: I see. Then you know I introduced you at the beginning as the Director of the South Carolina Water Science Center. Is there this office in every one of the States?

Strom: Yes. We have a presence in every State I believe in the United States. We are well represented out there on the landscape, we have a website for each individual State, as well as our National website. Where the public can go and find out all about the local resources and what we have available to them.

London: Now, of course I'm going to want to talk about water, since we're at the 2010 South Carolina Water Resources Conference, but also you mentioned it first so I want to hear about earthquakes and where we sit in South Carolina in terms of earthquakes.

Strom: Well, a lot of people don't know this, but there was an earthquake in South Carolina in the Charleston area in the late 1800's. It was greater than a magnitude 7.0, I believe, and that's very significant. So, there is an earthquake danger, potentially, here in South Carolina. We see a lot of micro-quakes, a lot of small quakes every day. We haven't seen anything like that since the late 1800's.

London: You here rumblings almost across the state in terms of sitting on faults. Is there a truth to that, and what's the outlook? Particularly since it's been a while since we had the major, the major one.

Strom: From what we know those faults are located very much down near the Summerville area of the coast. It's true there are faults all over the State, but that doesn't mean their active faults.

London: Well, let's get back to USGS and what's going on in terms of water, and what your doing to make sure the the information that we get is up to date and accurate.

Strom: Ok, Good question. There are three main things that we really focus on here in South Carolina. We focus on research, we focus on hydraulic investigations and we focus on collecting the data, monitoring. We collect data in real time. That is we make measurements of stream flow, of water quality, of groundwater levels every 15 minutes and we telemeter that information to a satellite, where you can view it on your webpage within a very short amount of time. We've actually been doing that now for almost thirty years. When the technology was new South Carolina was one of the first states to really adopt it in USGS so we got out well ahead of a curb in that regard. We have over a hundred and seventy sites that we monitor the stream flow in your real time. We've got about forty-five sites that we are measuring water quality, that is used for various  reasons, sometimes as an alert system even. Groundwater sites, we've got about twenty in the state. Aside from the real time that we monitor, we also have about that many sites again where we do periodic measurements and individual investigation type measurements each year.

London: Let me be clear  about this. When you say that you've got that and it's available, does that mean that if I knew what I was looking at, that I could take a look at that on the website?

Strom: Oh, Certainly! You could view the information right before lunch of stream flow at a gage near by your house if you are interested. Perhaps you are a kayaker or a recreationist, you want to go fishing, you are looking to see what the stage is in that river so you can plan your day around it. Yes, you can get online within an hour you will see what the latest measurement was.

London: In terms of industry in the State, I know we talked about recreational components, but industry that might need to know what the flows are and how thats going to effect their operations.

Strom: Very important information for industry, some industries need to have discharges so they need to know what the amount of discharge in a river is, so they know if they can make a discharge. The assimilative capacity of the river is something very important here you have probably heard discussed here at the talks. Just in terms of supply and intake. Is there enough in the river that you can take what you need out? I think you probably at the Conference learned that we are looking at permitting now in South Carolina for withdrawal and as the State moves towards that having accurate, real time information about discharge and stage in the streams is going to be critical to that process I believe.

London: There were a number of people that have talked to about the importance of research and the importance of monitoring. Is there duplication of services there or people working together to bring the information out so that it is useful to everyone?

Strom: I think there is a lot of collaboration going on, I think that at a conference like this we tend to learn what each other is doing and how we can collaborate so that we are not so much duplicating effort, but that we are working together towards a common goal and I see a lot of that going on here amongst State and Federal agencies and Universities as well as the private sector.

London: You were mentioning earlier about the health and the environmental issues and water quality, what you are doing with some of your monitoring. Why is that important and who is that important to?

Strom: Well, a variety of reasons for a variety of different folks. For instance, I gave a little talk earlier today on a salinity alert network where down on the coast on the Cooper River the saltwater can migrate up that river under high tides and low flows, and that then can endanger the fresh water intakes of industries there. We monitor with a partnership with a core of engineers in real time the migration of that saltwater so that we can help the industries protect those intakes. As a result, freshwater releases from reservoirs  are done and the migration of saltwater is pushed back. Si that's one application. Other applications are we have a lot of emerging contaminates today, You might have heard several talks on that, a lot of the things that we ingest, medications, what have you, personal health care products. Those things are ending up out and into the environment they have probably always been doing so but we have just now gotten to the point where we can measure them at very low levels. We do those kinds of measurements because we want to understand what is the fate and the transport of these things? Do they degrade rapidly in the streams, in those environments, do the rivers have an assimilative capacity for that are they something that will build up in the sediment and become a real problem down the line environmentally. These are all questions that really are fundamental and need some answers.

London: Right, and the only way to do that is to do the research and get that information from your monitoring out there. A young man this morning, with upstate forever, mentioned the issue of phosphates and a phosphate ban and apparently that was put on the table and never made it through the Senate committees, if I understand correctly. That would be one of those areas where that base information would be important.

London: Well, as a matter of fact we have been doing a regional model of the whole Southeast its referred to as a SPARROW model its a type of a regression model, water quality regression model, and one of the constituents that we are looking at is phosphate along with nitrate. And, the model was recently completed and what it will do is it will help resource managers identify, on a regional bases areas that are major contributors to things like phosphate. So it will help managers focus their efforts to places that will be the most effective. Where best management practices can be implemented. So, working in that field too.

London: In terms of the policy makers are they coming to USGS and using your data before they make some of the policy decisions that they are making?

Strom: Well, I believe in many cases that's occurring yes we ourselves do not make policy. We are non-regulatory completely non regulatory. What we try to do is provide the information the pure science if you will in an unbiased fashion. Kind of like to think of ourselves as the Switzerland. That those policy makers can use as the basis of their decisions. So, yes, at places like this we have many presenters that try to get that information out to those policy makers. I have meetings that I attend in which I try to brief them on what's relevant that they are dealing with in the State. So often times, Yes I believe they are coming to us for that information. If I'm not out there trying to get it to them my self.

London: One thing that has to come to mind when I attend conferences like this, and drink a lot of caffeine, getting back to something that you said earlier, are the emerging contaminants in the water, and from what I understand caffeine is one of them.

Strom: Caffeine is a big one, it shows up quite frequently.

London: So we may all be contributing to that.

Strom: That's right, but we would want to know in what conditions that caffeine would degrade in the environment under toxic conditions will it degrade, anoxic conditions all those things are thing that we are trying to find out. We want to know if the fish are going to be really caffeinated or not.

London: They might get away quicker that way. Could be a little bit of trouble. Well, Eric Strom director of the USGS South Carolina Water Center, I want to thank you for spending time with us today and for the information that you gave us the last time you were  on the program, and I sure hope we can stay in touch because I know that there is a lot going on in your operation that we all need to know more about and make good use of.

Strom: Thank You very much, the pleasure is mine.

London: I have been speaking with Mr. Eric Strom, he is the director of the USGS South Carolina Water Science Center for the Jim Self Center of the Future, I am Donna London.

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Diana Daniels: You will find links to the website of the South Carolina Water Science Center and more information from the 2010 South Carolina Water Resources Conference at yourday.clemson.edu

Douglas: Rebroadcast courtesy of YourDay

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