Higher Coastal Flooding Brings Higher Levels of Water Pollution

Nutrient Pollution Sampling (background) Assisted by Local Canine (foreground)

Nutrient Pollution Sampling (background) Assisted by Local Canine (foreground)

Snapshot: “Measure the Muck,” citizen science water monitoring program in Virginia, reveals new pollution threats from nuisance flooding. One flood day’s nutrient load equals an entire year’s projected pollution!

Backstory: For the last two years, a citizen science effort has been held to measure the extent of flooding on the highest projected tide of the year, the so-called “King Tide.” At the same time, another citizen science group has been our measuring as well - not where the water goes to when it floods, but rather what the flood waters bring back into our creeks and rivers when they recede.

The work is led by Old Dominion University Oceanography Professor, Dr. Margaret Mulholland, using students from the university as well as regional high school students to take samples. Hampton Roads Sanitation District provided support for the sample collection and processing.

The results from 2017’s sampling even are in - bacterial counts extremely high and nitrogen pollution off the charts as well. The preliminary results show that in the one day’s flooding, the total nitrogen pollution load to the Lafayette River was equal to an entire year’s loading as predicted by the regulatory model. The models do not take these extreme events into account, nor do they take the impacts of flood waters bringing pollution back into our watersheds.

This work is being replicated but these early results show yet another impact from these higher tidal waters that are inundating coastal communities.