Baylor and Waco To Open New Water Research Facility

Sept. 13, 2006

Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy along with other city leaders will join Baylor University President John M. Lilley in a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, to officially open the Baylor Experimental Aquatic Research (BEAR) facility. The ceremony will take place at the BEAR facility, located at the Waco Wetlands, 1752 Eichelberger Crossing Rd.

One of just a handful in the world, the BEAR facility is outfitted with 12 miniature "real life" streams, which can be manipulated to look and act like streams found across central Texas and in other regions. The streams will provide researchers a place to test complex water quality experiments that could ultimately benefit the City of Waco and address the taste and odor problems of Waco's drinking water.

Drawing treated water from the nearby wetlands, the model streams have "riffle, run and pool" sections that exceed 60 feet in length. Dr. Ryan King, the lead principal researcher at BEAR and an assistant professor of biology at Baylor, and Dr. Bryan Brooks, principal researcher and an assistant professor of environmental studies at Baylor, will be able to put different levels of nutrients in each stream and then study how each nutrient level might affect water quality and wildlife. State and local water managers will be able to use the data collected at the facility as the scientific basis for improved water quality management strategies.

"This experimental facility will allow us to ask and answer some questions that can't be fully understood in the field or in the lab," Brooks said. "When we couple what the research tells us here with observations in the field, we will be able to link cause and effect."

Funded by a grant from the Altria Foundation with significant matching support from Baylor and Waco, the BEAR facility also will allow researchers to study possible contaminants in the drinking water supply. Researchers will be able to study how long a certain contaminant, like a pesticide or another chemical, stays in the stream, how it breaks down and the overall impact on wildlife and water quality. To date, there is very limited research into the environmental fate and effects of many emerging aquatic contaminants.

"We will be able to identify critical concentrations of a certain contaminant," King said. "We will be able know that if we have 'X' amount of a certain contaminant, what the impact would be on the stream, wildlife and how we could prevent it from getting into the water supply in the first place."

Part of Baylor's Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research (CRASR), the new research center is a joint project with the City of Waco. The facility sits on city-managed land and was constructed by Baylor students, faculty and city workers, using city-donated and Baylor-purchased supplies. Waco city water managers also are planning to use the research as the scientific basis for local water management strategies.

In addition to the model streams, the research facility is outfitted with 24 model wetlands, which were developed by Dr. Robert Doyle, director of CRASR and chair of the biology department at Baylor. The wetlands will allow Doyle and other researchers to conduct similar nutrient tests.

The BEAR facility also will contribute significantly to Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision. The research center will foster a culture of excellence focused on science of urgent pertinence, stimulate environmental stewardship, and will augment and support existing water-related undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral programs at Baylor. In fact, King and Brooks recently received funding from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to continue studying nutrient effects on streams.

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