Written by Jen Merry
Saint Francis University’s Environmental Engineering students get hands-on experience working on real projects from local organizations. These projects allow the students to get out into the field as an undergraduate, and perform work that makes a difference.
In one such project, Environmental Engineering students, along with SFU’s Center for Watershed Research and Service (CWRS), are partnering with Altoona Water Authority and other agencies to assess the level of impurities and improve the water quality of a drainage impaired by historic coal mining near the Kittanning Run stream in Logan Township.
In the classroom, students learned about the working principle of various types of weirs, which are small dam-like structures used to measure the flow rate of streams. They then proceeded to design and construct weirs that they used to conduct bench scale experiments in the Fluid Mechanics Lab on SFU’s campus. Eventually, the students visited two sites in Logan township where the weirs were needed. They did field assessments including stream widths, measurements of flow rates, and selected the best locations for installing the weirs. Mr. James Eckenrode of CWRS used his vast water conservation experience and instructed students at the field site on various practical aspects of the weir design and installation. Students then got back to the lab, finalized the design and construction of the weirs and planned the installation. All of the students in the class worked together at the site to install the weirs during a lab period.
Environmental Engineering Visiting Assistant Professor, Tesfayohanes Yacob, has been working closely with the students on this project. “Students get an opportunity to see how choice of materials and site specific construction techniques are important when working in field conditions. In addition, they learn how important it is to accommodate unexpected surprises that comes along even with extensive planning and preparation.”
The installed weirs help to quantify the amount of water released at various points of interest within the impaired drainage area, thus helping determine how much impurities are present. The information about the impurities present will help CWRS design a remediation system in order to improve the water quality. Once the water quality is improved the Altoona Water Authority will be able to use the water to fill up its reservoirs.