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UnderBGKY collaborative project recognized as ‘Model Practice’

WKU’s Department Geography and Geology, City of Bowling Green have partnered on karst groundwater awareness campaign since 2011

The UnderBGKY Karst Groundwater Awareness Campaign, made possible through a partnership between the City of Bowling Green’s Department of Public Works and faculty and staff in WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology, was recently selected as a “Model Practice” by the American Public Works Association (APWA).

WKU has partnered with the City of Bowling Green for the UnderBG website.

The UnderBGKY Karst Groundwater Awareness Campaign, a highlight of a partnership between WKU and the City of Bowling Green, has been recognized as a “Model Practice” by the American Public Works Association.

“Model Practice” designations are given to a specific aspect of a Public Works Department’s overall mission and highlighted throughout the country for other Public Works departments to consider implementing.

“We are very excited to have this collaborative project selected as a APWA Model Practice,” said Dr. Leslie North, leader of the WKU UnderBGKY educational activities. “This designation helps to illustrate the importance of this work in not only Bowling Green, but also karst regions throughout the United States. UnderBGKY illustrates the unique and important projects that can come from the partnering of universities and the communities they serve.”

A need exists for residents and visitors of Bowling Green, and other karst regions across the world, to understand the uniqueness of the environment in which they live and visit, and the important role their individual actions play in stormwater runoff and groundwater quality. In Bowling Green, drinking water is drawn from the Barren River, which can become degraded by water traveling through the natural underground conduits of the city’s karst landscape before discharging into the river via springs. Since the surface and subsurface environments are highly interconnected in karst areas, and the physical nature of these terrains allows pollution to travel great distances quickly with little to no filtration, actions of individuals on the surface are directly correlated to groundwater quality and management.

“We would like to thank the WKU team for this partnership and guidance toward completing the UnderBGKY project. Our department looks forward to creating innovative and impactful solutions with WKU Geography and Geology faculty, staff, and students in the future,” said Josh Hankins, Environmental Compliance Coordinator with the Bowling Green Department of Public Works.

The influence of stormwater runoff and groundwater pollution on water quality in Bowling Green and other karst regions is well-documented through decades of scientific research on the flow and quality of karst groundwater. Yet, despite years of research about the karst groundwater issues in this area, many Bowling Green residents and visitors simply do not understand the degrading effects their actions have, not only on the karst system but also on the valuable drinking water supply source for the city. This is, at least in part, due to a lack of effective and accessible environmental educational materials about the complexities of karst groundwater and stormwater runoff. In short, human impacts on karst regions are frequently unintentional and/or ignored due to lack of effective and accessible environmental educational materials for the public about the basic science of caves and karst environments, or about the importance of these landscapes to water resources.

In 2011, the City of Bowling Green’s Department of Public Works and faculty and staff in the Department of Geography and Geology partnered to fill this gap in public knowledge about karst landscapes and, subsequently, mitigate the ever-increasing instances of karst and groundwater degradation in the region through a multiple-faceted informal educational campaign, UnderBGKY. By combining multiple informal education techniques, including interpretative signs, an educational website, and visual media, the team has begun to communicate about the interconnectedness of karst systems and their relationship to groundwater in Bowling Green to all members of the community.

The highlight of this partnership is the www.UnderBGKY.org website, which serves as a place to provide written content, images, digital resources/publications and infographics. The site also has a karst and groundwater-related events community calendar, a pledge for individuals to make a commitment to reduce their impacts on our karst region, a karst “quiz” to evaluate quantitatively learning outcomes of visiting and exploring the website, and a voluntary survey designed to reveal what visitors would like to see on the site and where changes should be made. A series of infographics were created by WKU staff member and graphics designer Jonathan Oglesby and provided as free downloads on the website. Members of the team have worked to create a series of Red is Green videos about water resources; they have been featured on local radio shows; and they frequently speak to local youth at school venues in the region.

A real-time monitoring network of rainfall and groundwater levels (stage height) at select locations within the Lost River drainage basin (10-minute resolution at multiple sites) is also under development and will soon be featured on the UnderBGKY website through an interactive data interface. Additional water quality parameters will be added as the network continues to grow, along with real-time monitoring for flooding via a mobile app, in conjunction with faculty member Dr. Jason Polk’s research. (More: See a recent article in Environmental Monitor)

Dr. David Keeling, Head of the Department of Geography and Geology, said: “Improving the quality of life of our communities is fundamental to the educational and research mission of the department, Ogden College and WKU. This project is an outstanding example of how partnerships across the community spectrum literally can change the way we see our environment and reveal our impacts on it.”

Contact: Dr. Leslie North, leslie.north@wku.edu; or Josh Hankins, Josh.Hankins@bgky.org

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