Trip to the Dan River

EWR graduate students collecting sediment samples from the Dan River. (Keegan Waggener, Chase Altizer and Julia Byrd)

In late 2015 and early 2016, communities using the Dan River (which runs through North Carolina and Virginia) as a source of drinking water experienced unprecedented and over-whelming ‘earthy musty’ taste and odour events.

Environmental and Water Resources (EWR) faculty members Dr. Andrea Dietrich, Dr. Daniel Gallagher, Dr. Greg Boardman and Dr. Adil Godrej lead the fieldwork and chemical research to find the cause of these taste and odour events. They are joined by Dr. Brian Badgley of VT’s Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department who leads the microbiological research team.

Several sites along the Dan River are sampled regularly to determine water quality. EWR graduate students Keegan Waggener and Julia Bryd, who are in charge of sampling, travelled to Danville last month along with fellow students Chase Altizer and Nevetha Ramesh.

“While chemicals like Geosmin and 2-Methylisoborneol have traditionally been a cause of ‘earthy mustiness’ in water, several other chemicals have been proposed as possible causes” said Keegan, who focuses on analysis of possible odorant causing chemicals using gas chromatography. Meanwhile Julia’s task is to develop statistically robust ways of quantifying taste and odour perceptions using Flavour Profile Analysis (FPA). “We test river water samples to characterise their odours and intensities” said Julia; “Volunteers are asked to smell river water and describe the presence of any odour.” Particular descriptive smells are identified using FPA. In addition to FPA, the samples are analyzed for other water quality parameters including organics and metals. Ultimately, the combined effort of these researchers could help solve the Dan River puzzle.

Here are some pictures from their sampling trip in February.

Keegan Waggener collects water samples from Danville Water Treatment Plant


Julia Byrd collects samples for Chlorophyll testing


Heads up!

A beautiful day for sampling in Danville

Sediment samples are collected using an Ekman dredge by Chase Altizer

The team in action

Photo Credits: Nevetha Ramesh