BOONE — Using the Boone Creek watershed that runs through Appalachian State University’s campus as a laboratory, an interdisciplinary research team at Appalachian has been studying impacts from stormwater runoff and how to manage that runoff.
“What our research shows is that stormwater runoff causes high temperatures and high salt levels in Boone Creek,” said William “Bill” Anderson, who serves as a professor as well as the chair of Appalachian’s Department of the Geological and Environmental Sciences.
In an article recently published in the Journal of Hydrology, a team of seven faculty researchers and two Appalachian students presented results from a model assessing how effective various stormwater management measures may be for reducing high temperatures and salt levels in the Boone Creek watershed.
The Journal of Hydrology reports on multiple ways to reduce the volume and rate at which stormwater runoff enters a stream. These include installing permeable pavement in parking lots and sidewalks (permeable pavement lets water soak in rather than immediately running off) and/or installing rain gardens, cisterns and other water collection systems that hold water and then release it slowly.
“We found that implementing various management technologies was an effective way to reduce the negative effects from runoff and that permeable pavement for large areas like parking lots was the most effective measure,” Anderson said.
This new work builds on previous studies showing that reducing runoff can improve water quality.
“In 2017, colleagues and I published our work on Boone Creek showing that reducing the amount of water that runs off immediately during a storm can greatly reduce both temperature and salt spikes,” Anderson said. “In fact, we found that reducing this ‘quickflow’ is as effective as reducing the amount of salt used on streets and sidewalks.”
The amount of water that flows into streams and rivers soon after a rainfall can be called stormflow, quickflow or direct runoff. This flow of water occurs relatively quickly and causes water levels to rise, peak and then recede as the stormwater drains from the watershed following a storm.
In addition to assessing how to reduce runoff, the team has conducted surveys throughout the Appalachian region to learn more about public perceptions of stormwater. Funding for this survey work was provided by the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics at Appalachian.
“We found that people are somewhat concerned about runoff, generally, as a water quality issue,” said research team member Tanga Mohr, professor in Appalachian’s Department of Economics. “Those people who were concerned, did report a willingness to install stormwater management technologies on their property,” she added.
However, the survey results revealed that respondents do not perceive high temperatures as being a water quality concern and those who participated in the survey are only moderately concerned about salt levels. Additionally, the survey’s respondents indicated they are not well aware that stormwater is typically untreated and usually runs off into the nearest waterway.
In the most recent survey, the research team asked respondents if they would vote for a referendum to charge a one-time tax ranging from $28–$329 to manage stormwater and lower salt levels in local waterways. Preliminary results reveal that a majority would vote in favor of such a tax, even at the higher levels of $226–$329.
Additionally, the survey results revealed the respondents’ willingness to pay such a tax is influenced by the amount of the tax coupled with how effective the management measures would be. For example, 82 percent of respondents reported they would pay $28 to reduce salt levels by 10 percent, and 71 percent of respondents indicated they would pay $122 to lower salt levels by 50 percent.
“As we’ve worked together on this project over the past several years, it has become apparent that managing stormwater is crucial if we want to protect water quality in Boone,” said research team member Kristan Cockerill, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies in Appalachian’s Department of Cultural, Gender and Global Studies.
“We do need to stress that hot water and salt from runoff are serious water quality concerns, but that there are ways we can all help to reduce those negative effects from runoff,” she added.