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Graduate student pushes for clean water

March 7, 2003

By Matt Russell

Jacquelyn Duke is fighting an upstream battle to prevent water pollution.

Duke, a biology graduate student and mother of two, is doing research on riparian zones, which are made up of vegetation such as trees and grasses located along streams.

They are crucial in filtering water that runs into rivers, lakes and eventually into drinking water.

Duke, who is originally from Utopia, attended California State University at Stanislaus.

After graduating with a biology degree, she decided to come work at Baylor.

'I wanted to move back to Texas and come back home,' Duke said. 'It fit well for my family, for me to be close to school and yet in a good community where my kids could go to school.'

On the advice of Dr. Joseph White, an assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Peter Allen, a professor of geology, Duke took up riparian research.

She said it didn't take her long to discover this important part of the ecosystem was becoming smaller.

'They're becoming more fragmented because of urbanization and agriculture,' Duke said. 'The farmers have, in the past, wiped out the riparian zones and built their crops up to the water.'

Duke discovered that small dams along streams have a positive effect on riparian zones. The dams allow a steady water flow downstream, which helps vegetation grow year-round.

Also, small dams are important to have during flash floods because they prevent vegetation from being washed away during heavy storms.

However, most dams are well past their life expectancy, and some groups are pushing for a campaign to have dams removed, Duke said.

She presented her research at an American Water Resources Association conference in Keystone, Colo.

Her work then was published in the AWRA journal, and she was invited to attend a policy dialogue in Washington, D.C.

Duke 'stood out' from the ecologists and geologists, Kenneth Lanfear, AWRA president, said. At the conference, Duke discovered the need for water management guidelines that would enable different agencies to work together on water issues instead of butting heads. Guideline proposals from the meeting will be presented to Congress sometime this year.

Duke said she feels strongly committed to the work she's doing.

'In the 21st century, water is going to become a major issue as it becomes more limited and more polluted,' Duke said. 'It's not only quality, it's quantity.'