Vikram Kapoor, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Drew Johnson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), have been awarded a $692,452 funding agreement through the City of San Antonio's Proposition 1 Edwards Aquifer Protection Program to design and implement a way to track fecal bacteria in the Edwards Aquifer so that major contamination can be stopped before it starts.
The Edwards Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for millions of people living in central and south Texas. Like all naturally occurring water sources, it is vulnerable to contamination from storm water runoff, municipal waste or even leaking septic tanks on private properties.
"Some of the sources that contribute to bacteria in aquifer systems are uncharacterized and uncontrollable," said Kapoor. "San Antonio is a forward-thinking city and UTSA is a forward-thinking university which is why we seek to identify sources that can be characterized and controlled. We're going to use innovative molecular techniques to get ahead of any issues that could arise."
The project team will spend the next two years collecting samples over several different regions of the Edwards Aquifer. The researchers will then work to identify specific DNA markers that are found in fecal bacteria to determine if there's contamination in the aquifer, to evaluate the level of contamination if present, and to accurately locate where it originated along the aquifer.
"Understanding and identifying the sources of surface and groundwater fecal contamination is paramount to protecting water quality and mitigating pollution and risk to human health," said Kapoor. "We will determine whether there's fecal contamination, then we'll advise the City on how to mitigate it."
Kapoor's work is the first approach of its kind to studying fecal contaminants in the Edwards Aquifer. Once the scientific testing is complete, his project will include outreach efforts to educate the public, especially homeowners, on how to keep local water resources safe from contamination.
"We're reaching out to our community to understand how septic tanks, pet waste, urban wildlife populations and household wells can affect our drinking water and our environment," said Kapoor.
Education modules for the communities surrounding the aquifer, also funded by the project, will be developed and led by the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the project team will begin collecting and testing samples from the aquifer this winter.
UTSA is ranked among the nation's top four young universities, according to Times Higher Education.