Category Archives: Research Projects

Recent Projects Supported by PAWRRC

The annual base USGS 104B base grants help PAWRRC to plan and conduct applied and peer reviewed research on water resources issues.  PAWRRC also uses the base grants to help train new scientists, disseminate research results, and to cooperate with other colleges and universities in their respective states and with other NIWR institutes to promote regional coordination.  See NIWR’s list of projects funded with 104B funds here.  Projects supported with Pennsylvania base 104B funds in FY18 include:

Advancing Public Education about Water Resources in Pennsylvania and the Mid- Atlantic Region.  The Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center will sponsor information-transfer activities that promote dialog of important water resources issues in Pennsylvania and beyond.   By supporting workshops, conferences, and symposia, we facilitate dialog about water issues of importance in Pennsylvania; encourage synthesis of data and results; enable networking; stimulate research collaborations, and provide support to early career researchers. (Penn State University and Allegheny College)

Data-Driven Models to Assess Water Quality in the Region of Marcellus Shale. This research will apply innovative data mining techniques to assess water quality with respect to sources of possible contamination and natural conditions in Pennsylvania. (Penn State University)

Integrative Modeling to Quantify Systems-Level Benefits of Green and Grey Infrastructure Networks to Urban Water Quality. This research will develop integrative models to predict the performance and quantify the system-level benefits of green and grey infrastructure networks to urban water quality. (University of Pittsburgh)

Photocatalytic Water Purification Under Visible Light: A New Direction For Water Treatment Process. This research will provide a new direction for water treatment processes by introducing a photocatalyst that can be activated under visible light to decompose the organic pollutants into harmless products. (Widener College)

FY 2017 research: Impacts of Shale Gas Produced Water on Water Utilities: Disinfection Byproduct Formation

Impacts of Shale Gas Produced Water on Water Utilities: Disinfection Byproduct Formation

Principal Investigators:  Yuefeng Xie, Penn State Harrisburg and Hao Tang, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

This research showed that shale gas extraction wastewater contributed to disinfection byproduct formation upon chlorination.

Chlorination of water under the influence of produced water leads to the formation of various disinfection byproducts, the amounts of which are affected by both bromide and non-bromide species, especially the metal ions.

FY 2017 research: Impact of Spreading Oil & Gas Wastewater as Road Treatments on Groundwater Quality

Principal Investigator:  William Burgos, Penn State University

This research showed that O&G wastewaters spread on roads in the northwestern Pennsylvania have salt, radioactivity, and organic contaminant concentrations often 100’s to 1000’s times above drinking water standards.

A) Volumes of O&G wastewater spread on roads or discharged through wastewater treatment plants with NPDES permits in Pennsylvania. B) Annual radium loads to the environment based on radium effluent concentrations reported for O&G wastewater treatment facilities and radium concentrations in 14 O&G wastewaters spread on Pennsylvania roads in 2017 (this study). Blue and red shaded regions represent loads based on the 25th – 75th percentile radium concentrations. Solid and dotted lines represent median loads.

FY 2017 research: Evaluating septic systems as a source of enteric pathogens in private water supply wells of Pennsylvania

Principal Investigator: Heather Murphy, Temple University

This research showed that household septic systems can be a source of human fecal contamination in Pennsylvanian private wells; and that rainfall can impact the presence of contamination over time.

Fluorescein dye detected at end of septic system leach-field and water sample collected downstream from creek.


FY2017 research: Toward Improved Predictability of Subseasonal to Seasonal Streamflow in the Middle Atlantic Region

Principal Investigator: Alfonso Mejia, Penn State University

This research shows that subseasonal to seasonal climate forecasts can be used to anticipate streamflow and nutrient loads from the James River into the Chesapeake Bay several weeks in advance, 2 to 8 weeks.

Performance of modeling approach in simulation mode at monthly timescale for streamflow, total nitrogen load, total phosphorous load, and suspended sediment for 7 gauged locations in the James River basin. The performance is measured using the Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) index.

FY2016 research: Effect of elevated bromide and climate change-induced total organic carbon concentrations on disinfection by-product formation, speciation, regulatory compliance and risk for PA surface waters

Principal Investigators:  Matteao Pozzi, Constantine Samaras, and Jeanne vanBriesen, Carnegie Mellon University.

This research shows that disinfection by-product regulation may not adequately protect drinking water consumers when climate change alters source water conditions in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania specific data on source water characteristics (bromide and organic carbon concentrations) and finished water trihalomethane speciation.

FY2016 research: Evaluating a Potential Win-Win for Water Quality Management in Pennsylvania: Systems-Level Quantitative Analysis of Abandoned Mine Drainage and Produced Water Co-Treatment

Principal Investigators:  Leanne Gilbertson and Radisav Vidic, University of Pittsburgh


Evaluating a Potential Win-Win for Water Quality Management in Pennsylvania: Systems-Level Quantitative Analysis of Abandoned Mine Drainage and Produced Water Co-Treatment

This research presents the environmental footprint and trade-offs of a proposed co-treatment process of abandoned mine drainage and produced water to inform future design and implementation strategies aimed at impact minimization.


Pilot-scale system for the co-treatment of produced water and AMD with the inset images showing the characteristics of feed waters and treated water.


FY2016 research: Remediation of flowback water by transformation of organic additives used in fracking operations

Principal Investigators:  Manish Kumar and Andrew Zydney, Penn State University

This research finds polyacrylamide used in hydraulic fracturing significantly reduce the membrane treatability of resulting wastewater generated from slickwater fracturing operations in Pennsylvania.

Fouling index of flowback increases with (A) the peak molecular weight and (B) the concentration of high MW species (>130 nm in diameter). Data from repeat experiments are presented using the same symbol. Fouling index is largely affected by fluid recipe. Black square indicates raw fluid (only FR without reaction) and the remaining data are synthetic flowback. FR: only FR; FB: FR plus breaker; FBC: FB plus crosslinker. The open circles (FR) and triangles (FB and FBC) are generated by reaction with shale at 83 bar, 80, 25 g/L. Fouling index is also largely affected by temperature and shale during the reaction simulating downhole conditions. The diamonds are flowback of FR only generated using different reaction conditions: open diamond, FR-S+P+T: without shale (at 83 bar and 80); center dotted diamond, FR+S+P-T: room temperature (at 83 bar with shale); and center cross diamond, FR-S+P+T: atmospheric pressure (at 80 with shale, diamond with low fouling index). Overall fouling index of raw fracturing fluids and synthetic flowback waters can be roughly divided into three regions: a) green oval is low fouling region (1 m-1) where less than 20% fouling (final flux over initial flux) occurs during the course of filtration (100-300 L/m2); b) the red oval is medium fouling region (2-100 m-1), corresponding to 50-95% fouling during the course of filtration (50-300 L/m2); c) the grey oval is high fouling region (>1000 m-1), in which the flux declines to nearly zero within 5 L/m2.

FY2016 information-transfer: Rural Drinking Water Education for Underserved Counties of Pennsylvania

Principal Investigators:  Bryan Swistock and Susan Boser, Penn State Water Extension Team

Widespread problems with water quality in private water supplies (wells, springs and cisterns serving individual homes) were first reported nationally by Francis and others (1982).  Pennsylvania has about three million rural residents using over one million private water wells, springs and cisterns but it is one of the few states lacking statewide location, construction or maintenance standards for private water supplies. Penn State surveys have consistently found that approximately 40% of these water supplies fail at least one health-based drinking water standard but homeowners are generally unaware of these issues and lack appropriate water treatment (Sharpe et al., 1985, Swistock et al., 2013). The absence of statewide regulations along with high contamination rates and low awareness among private water supply owners created a critical need for education that has been addressed by the Penn State Water Resources Extension team.  Along with over 200 volunteers from the Master Well Owner Network, they annually educate approximately 10,000 private water supply owners through workshops, individual consultations, and webinars. These educational efforts have also resulted in the analysis of nearly 7,000 groundwater samples at the Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory (Penn State AASL).  This data is publicly available and has been utilized by about 1,000 groundwater professionals annually as a source of groundwater quality data for most counties and the data are incorporated into the free H2OSolutions mobile app which has been downloaded by over 500 professionals.

Despite all of these efforts, there are nine “underserved” counties which have been difficult to reach with private water supply education because of the limited number and geographic location of Extension team members and MWON volunteers. Most of the counties also lack any state-accredited water testing laboratories.  These counties have over 100,000 homes using private water supplies (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990) but very few groundwater samples (<30 per county) are currently in the Penn State AASL database resulting in less comprehensive groundwater quality information for those counties. This data is used by Penn State Extension educators, water professionals, realtors, and others to guide local water testing recommendations and direct future research.  This project seeks to expand private water system education and groundwater data in five underserved counties across the state.

Table 1.  Number and percent of wells and springs across all five counties that failed health-based or aesthetic drinking water standards. 

Bryan Swistock discusses results with well and spring owners in Venango County on August 2, 2016 (photo by Jim Clark).