W&L Team Installs Stream Gauge on Woods Creek

A team of Washington and Lee students, staff, and professors worked together to install a new stream gauge in Woods Creek during the 2011 Spring Term. Meredith Townsend, of the Class of 2011, and W&L Environmental Management Coordinator Chris Wise came up with the idea to try to reestablish a gauging station on Woods Creek as a work study project. Geology professors Paul Low and Dave Harbor, geology technician Emily Flowers, and Elizabeth George, Class of 2012, with the Environmental Studies Service Learning program all helped make it a reality. The group planned the installation, purchased the needed equipment, built the structure and installed the gauge.

There are two primary reasons for having a stream gauge on Woods Creek. First, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monitors stream flow conditions on three larger streams in Rockbridge County, but only one other small stream, Kerrs Creek, is monitored. Data from smaller streams is just as important to research efforts. In smaller streams, flood levels are much higher and rise (and fall) more quickly because the creek is unable to accommodate the large influx of water. The new gauge will contribute to understanding the behavior of smaller creeks, both locally and nationally.

Another reason for having a gauge on Woods Creek is the unique nature of its watershed. While most of the watersheds in Rockbridge County consist primarily of undeveloped land, the Woods Creek watershed has a large portion ( between 30 and 40 percent) of developed land and is the only local stream that is affected by urban development. Development usually means a loss of canopy cover and vegetation and an increase in impermeable surfaces such as roads and roofs. This results in less soil absorption of rain, quicker runoff into streams and higher water temperatures as well as more pollutants.

The stream gauge will also be used as a hands-on tool to educate students of all levels. Most professors in the geology department do a few introductory laboratories on water dynamics, often using Woods Creek as an easy-to-access laboratory. The data from the gauge will be eventually made accessible to the entire W&L community, as well as the general public.

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