Baylor Biology Student Joins Policymakers To Offer Water Guidelines To Congress

  • News Photo 1093
    Jacquelyn Duke measures transpiration of plants beside streams.
  • News Photo 1095
    This machine measures the plant's carbon dioxide fluxes, which tells the story of the plant's water balance.
Feb. 10, 2003

by Judy Long

Baylor University doctoral student Jacquelyn Duke made such a splash at a national water conference that it earned her an invitation to the nation's capital.

The Baylor biologist was one of only 14 academic researchers among 400 top policymakers invited to the National Water Resources Policy Dialogue, sponsored by the American Water Resources Association (AWRA). Representatives from the U.S. Congress, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others gathered in Washington, D.C., to brainstorm on the most crucial water issues facing the nation in the 21st century.

"They were mostly people who were not scientifically minded, and the meeting was heavy on politics. But I felt honored to be invited and to be able to represent Baylor," said Duke, whose advisor is biology professor Joe White and has also worked closely with geology professor Peter Allen.

With water scarcity one of the biggest environmental concerns facing the U.S. this century, AWRA brought the group together to produce directives for water management.

Duke received the Washington invitation after attending an AWRA conference in Colorado last summer, where she presented her research on the effect of small dams on downstream river ecosystems.

As an ecologist among a conference of geologists and hydrologists, Duke stood out, said AWRA President Kenneth Lanfear, who saw to it that Duke was invited to the policy dialogue in Washington. The Texas Water Research Institute, through a grant supporting White's and Allen's research, and other funding from the biology department, the College of Arts and Science, the Office of Research and the graduate school paved the way for Duke's trip to the nation's capital.

Duke said more than 10,000 small dams have been built in the United States since the late 1940s, with more than 1,200 in Texas. Built to last 50 to 100 years, many dams are already past their life span, and planners must decide whether to repair or remove them.

Despite that, Duke's research has found that small dams are enhancing downstream ecosystems. With water flowing through many small rivers and streams for only part of the year, the dams hold storm water and allow only a small quantity to flow downstream. The rivers can then maintain water flow for nearly the entire year, allowing a greater variety of plants to grow along their banks, including trees, which hold soil in place and prevent erosion.

Duke said popular opinion about dams is somewhat negative -- they limit the movement of fish and cause a build-up of sedimentation. While concerns over the impact of large dams are legitimate, Duke's study is the first pointing to a different outcome with small dams.

Duke said the main consensus of the Washington dialogue was that Congress needs to establish water management guidelines that enable the different agencies to work together on water issues.

"Top agency officials said they would love to interact instead of butting heads. Also, they recognized that no set of guidelines can apply to every river to manage it well, and local governments should have a say. It ended on a promising note," she added.

Proposals from the meeting are expected to be presented to Congress sometime this year.

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