TWRI grant recipient studies bacterial loadings along the Texas Gulf Coast
By Laura Maeker
The University of Texas student Stephanie Johnson is working with her advising professors Drs. David Maidment and Mary Jo Kiristis to evaluate bacterial loadings to six bays along the Texas Gulf Coast that currently do not meet state water quality standards.
Johnson, originally from Minnesota and a recipient of a $5,000 2007-2008 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant, said once the model is developed, it will be generalized for application to other coastal watersheds in Texas and perhaps across the nation.
"The average American can learn that modeling is one of many tools to be used in the overall battle for clean water," Johnson said. "We do the best we can to simulate the way nature responds to our actions but science and engineering can only do so much. The ultimate answer to clean water is through the actions of the average citizen."
According to Johnson's report, of the 39,000 water bodies in the United States that are currently classified as impaired, over 13 percent are listed due to bacteria contamination, making it the highest single source of surface water contamination in the country today. The ability to accurately model nonpoint bacterial loading to water bodies has historically been limited largely due to the complicated biological and physical interactions that bacteria undergo when they are released into the environment.
"The results expected from this project include an understanding of the way bacteria survive and are transported through the environment," Johnson said in her report. "Research will help quantify these factors and their relationship to bacterial movement within a watershed.
"I hope that my modeling methods can be used to address water quality issues along the Texas Gulf Coast," she said. "I would define success as assisting to make water that is safe to be enjoyed by all."
Johnson said she plans on completing her doctorate and either returning to the engineering consulting field or becoming a teacher at a university in the Midwest United States. However, if she does return to the consulting world, she said she would like to maintain her connections with the academic community through collaboration on research or serving as an adjunct faculty member.
Her research was funded by TWRI with funds obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Institutes for Water Research. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.