Prof. gets grant to study water ecosystems

    As the head of the Portland State Water Quality Research Group, Professor Scott Wells’ latest project is a study of the preparation of drinking water from the Tolt Reservoir, one of the main water sources for Seattle.

    Wells has been working for over 10 years with a team of researchers studying bodies of water as public resources and integral parts of ecosystems.

    The group, which includes two PSU researchers and a number of graduate and undergraduate students, uses a computer-modeling program to predict how changes made to bodies of water will affect larger environmental conditions, which in this case includes the ability of salmon to live in the reservoir.

    ”In the case of the Tolt Reservoir, we are using the computer simulation to see how changing the water level would affect the temperature of the water below the reservoir, and the sediment levels in the water going to the filtration plant,” said Wells, who is also chair of the civil and environmental engineering program at PSU.

    Wells said the temperature of the water is important for the fish that live in the watershed, and the sediment levels are important in the process of preparing the water for drinking. “We provide a modeling tool that they can use to predict how to use their water maintenance system,” he said.

    ”We’re basically a team,” said Robert Annear of the Water Quality Research Group.

    A PSU research assistant in the civil and environmental engineering program, Annear has worked with the group on a number of projects, including the Tolt Reservoir.

    ”It is an interesting watershed because it has steep canyon walls,” Annear said. “A lot of watersheds tend to be flat and laid out. The difference you get is the characteristics of the water coming in. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in the Rocky Mountains, but this is at the foothill of the Cascades.”

    Annear said the Tolt Reservoir project is different because most of the surrounding wilderness is made of younger, second-generation trees. This changes the overall environmental picture that the group is analyzing.

    The funding for the Tolt Reservoir project, a grant that totaled $95,000, came from the city of Seattle. The Water Quality Research Group gets funding for projects from a variety of sources, mostly public, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other state and federal agencies.

    The Corps of Engineers originally developed the computer-modeling program, CE-QUAL-W2, that the group uses. The Corps of Engineers gave the program to the Water Quality Research Group in the 1990s and Wells is under contract with the Corps to upgrade and improve the program. Wells and his PSU colleagues also host an annual seminar to teach how to use the program.

    ”It is a 2-D model now, but our goal is to go 3-D,” Berger said of the computer program.

    ”We’ve added our own algorithms to improve the computer simulation and better forecast management scenarios,” Wells said. The group is currently testing code that would allow the program to create a zooplankton model.

    The Water Quality Research Group is currently working on projects in the Northwest on the Willamette River, the Spokane River, Lake Roosevelt, and a project outside the region modeling aspects of the Dead Sea.

    The program is free and can be downloaded by the public at