Dec 23, 2011

Rose State College Uses Grant Funds to Dig Educational Water Well

Campus water well to illustrate to science students important issues surrounding water resources

A grant to Rose State College by aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman provided for the digging of a water well on the campus, located in Oklahoma City, to be used for educational purposes.

Rose State professor Dan Ratcliff said the well will help environmental science students understand important scientific issues surrounding water resources, particularly underscored by the recent drought in the area. According to Ratcliff, the well sinks about 35 ft, into an area of the water table called the unconfined aquifer.

Ratcliff said groundwater remains protected from the drought because being beneath the ground prevents evaporation. While lakes, ponds, streams and rivers have gone dry due to this year’s drought, groundwater remains available by digging a well. However, the threats there are different, he said.

“Is there a direct effect of the drought conditions to the aquifer conditions? It’s a lag time, a big lag time. We’re talking several years,” Ratcliff explained. “Groundwater doesn’t flush like surface water does. It’s protected from evaporation. It’s usually not endangered from a drought, but if you have a drought in multiple years, then it can lower the groundwater. Mostly, though, lowering is caused by people overdrawing from it.”

The campus well will be used to illustrate to students how flow rate can be calculated so the water in the well can be used sustainably, not just used up. The well will also show how water quality can be tested.

“We can draw out the water and measure how long it takes to recharge the well. You get an idea of the flow from that. You can model the flow mathematically,” Ratcliff said. “Also, we’re going to take water quality parameters and look at nutrients, nitrates, fertilizer and septic systems, which we don’t have here—things like phosphates in your water.”

Northrop Grumman spokesperson Norm Mejstrik said the project showed “a lot of foresight” among research projects on campus. He said Ratcliff’s project, and other projects funded by the company’s $15,000 grant to the campus, help develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education for a future workforce.