ESP and Fairfax County Partner in Work That Earns Clean Water Partner Award

Posted: March 20, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lynn Burke

On Tuesday, March 25, Fairfax County will receive a Clean Water Partner for the 21st Century Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a water quality monitoring project that scientists from George Mason’s Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) Department have been helping the county conduct in Gunston Cove since 1984. The Clean Water Partners program recognizes extraordinary efforts made by local governments that exceed the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

“The county partnered the ecology expertise from George Mason University and the water quality sampling and analysis expertise from the Environmental Monitoring Branch to conduct the monitoring program,” says Elaine Schaeffer, director of the county’s Environmental Services. “The strengths of both organizations resulted in attainment of the goals and forged a successful relationship between the county and the university.”

For nearly 20 years, Chris Jones, ESP Department chair and professor, and Don Kelso, associate professor, have been conducting an ecological study of Gunston Cove funded by the county’s Department of Public Works.

“The county has a lab and people who can do water quality analyses,” says Jones, “but they don’t have anyone on staff who is an ecologist, who could look at the relationships of the biological communities to each other and to the water quality. So that’s basically why they got us involved. We could bring that expertise.”

Because a major sewage treatment plant on the mouth of Pohick Creek discharges water into the creek that eventually runs into the cove, the county wanted to have a good grasp on the effects of the discharge to the river, says Jones. “The county was conscious of the fact that it is adding wastewater to the river in an area that has the most undeveloped space in the county and is considered an environmental protection area.

“This will be our 20th year coming up of data collection, more or less in the same area, with the same protocols,” says Jones. “The neat part about the project is that a lot of studies that scientists do are two- or three-year studies. They look at things for that period and then they wrap it up, giving them just a snapshot. This work is more like a movie that’s been taken over the years.”

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