The West Virginia Water Research Institute, a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University, has been awarded a $508,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation to continue a regional water quality monitoring and reporting program called 3 Rivers QUEST – or Quality Useful Environmental Study Teams.

The Colcom Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based private foundation dedicated to fostering a sustainable environment, first funded the WVWRI-initiated program in 2011 and has contributed more than $1.2 million dollars towards the overall effort.

The continuation of the 3 Rivers QUEST program, now in its second year, will allow researchers to identify long term trends in water quality in the river basins for which the program is named after – Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio.

Led by the West Virginia Water Research Institute, the program includes a coordinated regional network of research partners including Wheeling Jesuit University, Duquesne University, and the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited as well as watershed organizations throughout the Upper Ohio River Basin.

“It’s unrealistic and unfeasible for WVWRI to undertake a monitoring program for an entire region,” said Melissa O’Neal, 3 Rivers QUEST program manager. “The funding from Colcom has allowed us to expand the geographic scope of the program by bringing on our research partners and allowed us to create a mini-grant program to fund volunteer organizations interested in participating in a truly regional water quality monitoring effort.”

In total, the project monitors and reports water quality information for an area encompassing 25,000 square miles and covering portions of five states. The resultant data is then made available to the public via the project’s website,

“Between the WVWRI and our 3 Rivers QUEST research partners, there are 54 locations from which we collect grab samples and conduct full chemical analysis,” O’Neal said. “Watershed groups involved with the program monitor another 300 plus sites.”

Dr. Benjamin Stout, a professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University responsible for implementing the 3 Rivers QUEST monitoring model in the Upper Ohio River Region, believes that the unique two-pronged approach to water quality monitoring benefits all involved.

“3RQ provides a unique opportunity for academic scientists to engage in community-based participatory research – that is, water quality issues identified by our community partners helps to prioritize our research efforts,” Stout said. “It also provides community members with direct access to academic researchers who have a wide range of water quality expertise. With this partnership, we can respond rapidly to help solve local environmental issues in a timely fashion.”

While the coordinated monitoring effort between scientists and citizens for an entire region could be considered a feat unto itself, 3 Rivers QUEST research partners agree that perhaps the greatest benefit of the program is the ability to analyze long-term water quality trends.

“People want to know how changes in the region’s energy industry will affect water quality in their streams and rivers,” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of WVWRI. “Thanks to the Colcom Foundation, we will have the ability to look at and analyze long-term trends in water quality and ultimately aid regulatory personnel in making sound policy decisions.”

Dr. John Stolz, director of Duquesne University’s Center for Environmental Research and Education and Dr. Bruce Dickson, president of the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited – both monitoring the Allegheny River Basin, agreed with Ziemkiewicz.

“The increase in shale gas development and recent changes in coal fired power plant regulations make our three rivers as vulnerable as ever to complex types of pollution,” Stolz said. “Continued monitoring of the water quality in the basin will create a more reliable database that accounts for seasonal and episodic fluctuation and will allow us to identify the larger causes of pollution.”

The continuation of the program is “especially important in light of the rapid expansion of deep shale development and a very active conventional oil and gas industry,” Dickson said.

For more information about the 3 Rivers QUEST program and to see detailed water quality information from throughout the Upper Ohio Region, visit:

WVWRI is a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University. Founded in 1967, the institute is funded through federal, state and private sources. It serves as a statewide vehicle for performing research related to water issues. The institute is the premier water research center in West Virginia and, within selected fields, an international leader.

The primary mission of the Colcom Foundation is to foster a sustainable environment to ensure quality of life for all Americans by addressing major causes and consequences of overpopulation and its adverse effects on natural resources. Regionally, the Foundation supports conservation, environmental projects and cultural assets.

The Colcom grant was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015. For more on the campaign, visit:



CONTACT: Glenn Waldron; WV Water Research Institute

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