SUNY Fredonia science students to compile valuable data for village water department

Roger Coda
illustration of a water faucet, Geology major, Environmental Sciences major, Communication major, Business major

A new connection between SUNY Fredonia and the village of Fredonia is being forged that will provide students with “real-world” experience by assembling valuable baseline data that will help the municipality’s water department to swiftly and efficiently react to current as well as future challenges that it may encounter.

Beginning in the Spring 2023 semester, a projected 15 to 17 students enrolled in four upper-level courses in Geology, Environmental Sciences and Geographic Information Systems will begin recording data for two multi-year projects.

Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Matt Lanning had no difficulty attracting students to the work. Students view the projects as a way to do something beneficial for the village, he said. “That’s really exciting for them, and it’s exciting for me, and along the way they’re going to learn some really cool science.”

“That’s really exciting for them, and it’s exciting for me, and along the way they’re going to learn some really cool science.” – Dr. Matthew Lanning

A majority of the students are Geology and Environmental Sciences majors, but there are also a few Communication and Business students. “I left the course open to all majors, because real-world problems are not purely scientific,” Lanning said. “For example, communicating to village residents some type of cost analysis – those aren’t things in my tool box, but I can tell you what’s going on, with high accuracy and detail.

“It’s good for other students going into consulting to have an experience like this,” Lanning said.

The two projects – creating digital water maps pinpointing the exact locations of individual shut-off values and assessing the quality of water at the point of the end user – were presented to the Fredonia Village Board of Trustees by Lanning in November. The village had reached out to science faculty about partnering with the university and utilizing the research skills of its faculty.

Students will pursue specialty topics that are generally not covered in courses, Lanning explained, and they’ll see systems explained in very high detail.

Lanning said the goal of one project is to convert all old paper maps that the water department uses into a digital format that will enable workers to do their job more efficiently. Existing maps rely on physical landmarks to track down the location of a shut-off valve.

“Obviously, that takes a lot of time and is not super-efficient, and meanwhile the problem is ongoing,” Lanning commented.

“The plan is to create a web interface for the water department, so when they get a call about a water leak, they can click on the address (where the shut-off was reported) and see right in front of them the nearby values,” Lanning explained. The water department employee will arrive at the scene with the specific GPS location and other relevant information to quickly locate the valve that needs to be shut off. Additional information, such as frequency of problems at specific locations, can also be tracked.

Students will assess the quality of water received at homes and businesses in the village by collecting water samples at various locations for the second project. “What we want to understand specifically is what the water quality of the village is right now, across many homes and businesses,” Lanning said.

The composition of main water lines and the individual pipes that deliver water to customers will also be learned, Lanning explained. That’s important to know, he noted, as some older water lines in some parts of the village may be made of lead. A change in the use of chemicals in the water treatment process could potentially result in corrosion of water lines, depending on their composition.

“The plan for them requires a lot of coordination – those are real-world skills that they don’t get to practice on campus,” Lanning said.

“The water quality out of Fredonia on paper looks wonderful; it is not a concern that I have,” remarked Lanning, whose specialty is ecohydrology, the study of interactions between water and ecology systems. “It’s about the future and the village’s future.”

Students who were not able to register for the courses are welcome to serve as volunteers. Contact Lanning via email for more information.

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