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Student research looks at effect of sewer upgrades on Lynchburg water

By Tim Saunders
Published On: Jun 17 2013 01:45:08 PM EDT
Updated On: Jun 17 2013 04:45:33 PM EDT
Student research looks at effect of sewer upgrades on Lynchburg water
LYNCHBURG, Va. -

They're nice to look at, but Lynchburg's creeks and rivers have a notorious problem.

"If organisms can't survive, then the water is bad and you better stay away from it," said Kavya Pradhan, a Randolph College student studying environmental science.

For decades raw sewage leaked directly into the city's primary waterways: Blackwater Creek and the James River.

Since the early 1990's the city has been working to fix the problem, replacing outdated sewer lines with new pipes through a project called "Combined Sewer Overflow" or "CSO."

"It seems to be getting better," said Pradhan, who is spending her summer studying Lynchburg's water to see if the CSO work is having any effect.

"We have data from before the CSO project started in that area, during, and a little after, so we have a good way to compare it," Pradhan said.

Pradhan's research is part of an ongoing effort by Randolph, to track the health of Lynchburg's major tributaries.

"Since we've had students doing (research) ever year for ten years, we're able to really look at trends and see what's changing," said Sarah Lawson, an assistant professor of environmental science and Physics at Randolph.

What's changing is the number of micro organisms that live in the water.  The count appears to be going up.

"It's actually really important and it's not just the count, but also the variety that's important," said Pradhan.

It's a positive sign that millions of dollars in sewer upgrades are working.       

"That's a big undertaking, so it's great to see that it's having positive effects," said Lawson.

But the problem continues.  Sewage is still leaking into Blackwater Creek and some areas remain unsafe for swimming and fishing.   

"I think we're on the path to where we need to be, but not there yet," Lawson said.