A Savannah River monitoring program pioneered by former Augusta scientist Gene Eidson is the beneficiary of a $3 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to Clemson University.
Eidson, who helped establish Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy in Augusta more than a decade ago, is now director of Clemson’s Institute of Applied Ecology, which has continued efforts to establish real-time water-quality monitoring throughout the Savannah River basin.
The grant will help Clemson and a host of partners – including Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy and its research director, Oscar Flite – design and deploy a basinwide network of computerized sensors that will monitor water quality from the river’s North Carolina headwaters all the way to Savannah Harbor.
According to a summary provided by Clemson, the “Intelligent River” project will employ patented technology known as “MoteStack,” which involves the use of large numbers of sensors that can be deployed throughout the river’s 312-mile length.
The sensors, linked and controlled by a battery-operated computer smaller than a Rubik’s Cube, will record data on water temperature, flow rate, turbidity and real-time levels of dissolved oxygen and pollutants.
“The Intelligent River seeks to transform the science and business of managing natural resources at the landscape scale and reflects the worldwide quest for earth-monitoring technologies,” said Eidson, who initiated the program in 2007 with $1.75 million in seed funding from Clemson’s public service activities fund.
The network is expected to provide real-time data on water quality and flow rate at a scale that – until now – was cost-prohibitive.
The study comes at a time when economic and political stresses are placing new emphasis on the Savannah River and creating new conflicts among stakeholders.
The river, a shared resource between Georgia and South Carolina, is a source of drinking water for major cities, an important waste assimilation conduit for scores of industries and municipalities and a diverse ecological system that spans from the mountains to the sea.
In recent years, drought and low water levels at federal reservoirs – including Thurmond Lake near Augusta – have generated controversy over how much water should be released into the river for downstream stakeholders.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages lakes Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell, is likely to become an important beneficiary of the Intelligent River project, in which it is a partner.
“We will be able to refine our releases based on changes in water quality, ecosystem functionality, habitat availability and human effects,” said Col. Edward Kertis, a former commander of the corps’ Savannah District. “The new generation of data-collection platforms could potentially be adopted by every Corps of Engineers water-management office across the country.”
Other project partners, in addition to Clemson and the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, are: Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology, Environmental Protection Agency Region 4; South Carolina Centers of Economic Excellence Program; National Park Service; National Science Foundation; city of Aiken; Lucille Pate, Arcadia Plantation; Pate Foundation; and Baruch Foundation.