State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2009AK78B
Title: Impacts of Cold Regions Open Dumps on Microbial Water Quality
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2009
End Date: 2/28/2010
Congressional District: AK-1
Focus Categories: Solute Transport, Toxic Substances, Wastewater
Keywords: Pathogens, Solid Water, E. coli, Enterococcus
Principal Investigators: Schnabel, William; Barnes, David L.
Federal Funds: $ 19,633
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 9,326
Abstract: Community health in rural Alaska is dependent upon the provision of clean, safe drinking water. The effectiveness of drinking water treatment is enhanced through minimization of contaminants in the source water. In Alaskan communities underlain by permafrost, source waters are often located in close physical or hydrologic proximity to pollutant sources such as sewage lagoons or solid waste facilities. Intentional or unintentional discharges of pathogenic organisms from these facilities can lead to contamination of the drinking water sources, thus imposing unacceptable health risks upon the communities. This health risk is exacerbated in Arctic Alaska, where waste facilities are often inappropriately managed, and changing permafrost conditions can lead to new and unexpected surface and subsurface hydrologic pathways. In many rural Alaskan communities, the design and installation of sewage lagoons is regulated by State officials, thus bestowing some degree of systems-level planning upon the process. The solid waste sites, on the other hand, are often unpermitted, unregulated, and unmonitored. As a consequence, very little is known with respect to the impacts of pathogenic organisms originating from the dump sites upon the local water resources. Given the potential human health impacts of disease-causing organisms in drinking source waters, developing a better understanding of the relationship between open dumps and local water resources is a critical issue to the State of Alaska. The objective of this study is to evaluate the existing or potential microbial transport pathways between an open dump site and the surrounding surface and groundwater resources in a rural Alaskan community underlain by permafrost. This objective will be accomplished through a records assessment of the site history, a site survey and hydrologic assessment, sample analysis of indicator bacteria in surrounding surface and groundwaters, and a series of column studies in the WERC laboratories. Field activities conducted for this project will be coordinated with those being conducted by a different research group investigating the chemical impacts of open dump sites. Consequently, field logistics, sampling infrastructure (i.e. wells, suction lysimeters, etc) and site data amassed for the chemical evaluation study will be leveraged for use in the proposed microbial evaluation study. This study will result in at least one peer-reviewed publication describing the microbial impacts upon local water resources of open dumps located on permafrost. We perceive the study to be an early step in the process of minimizing water-related health risks in rural Alaskan communities.

Progress/Completion Report, 2009, PDF

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