October 2010
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Portage River Sampling Station Complete
The newest water quality testing worker on the Portage River works all day and all night without complaint and in all kinds of weather. The National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University recently completed engineering and construction of an automated water sampling facility on the Portage River and began collecting samples September 7. Portage River Watershed Coordinator Elaine Moebius met with research assistants for an introduction to how the system works.

The water collection facility is a small, insulated shed recently built on an old bridge abutment next to a railroad bridge in the Village of Woodville. A pump in the river circulates water through the facility. Around the clock, every eight hours, an automated system fills a liter bottle with river water. Once a week, research assistants from the water quality research center stop by to maintain the facility. These researchers take out the filled bottles and replace the unit with empties and fill another sample bottle as a quality control measure. They also check that the system is back-flushing the pump hourly and they clean the collecting tub to prevent build up of organic matter that could change their findings.

Back at the lab in Tiffin, the research assistants run a series of tests on the water samples. They test for nutrients and by-products of fertilizer including ammonia, chloride, sulfate, dissolved reactive phosphorus, silica, fluoride, nitrites, and nitrates. They also measure suspended solids, or sediment. A United State Geological Survey (USGS) Stream Gage is just upstream from the Heidelberg facility. The USGS gage measures water volume and velocity. Researchers looking at the nutrient content of the water can measure how loading changes during storm events. Experience shows researchers that heavy rains cause nutrient levels in the water to rise. Data from the testing site will be useful to people studying how best to apply fertilizers to farm fields, people studying the influence of animal feeding operations on the water quality, and anyone concerned with the health of the river. About 100,000 people get their drinking water from the Portage River. Data from the testing is posted at the Heidelberg website. Use the “quicklinks” menu to locate and enter the “water quality lab” website.

Water is drawn from the Portage River and circulates through the collecting station.

River water is piped through a tub in the facility, and back into the river.

A bottle is automatically filled every eight hours around the clock and kept in refrigerated storage until research assistants pick up the samples.

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