When taking a walk through Founders Park, stop and measure the water level!
An ETSU researcher is asking visitors to Johnson City’s Founders Park to take a moment to help her with a project.
Folks taking a walk through the park are encouraged to stop when they reach the bridge across Brush Creek, read the water level on a staff gauge – which looks like a giant ruler extending from the water up the side of the bridge abutment – and text their findings to Dr. Ingrid Luffman, assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Geosciences, at a special number provided on an instruction sign at the site.
Using a student-developed system, the time-stamped water depth data texted to that number will be downloaded into the database program Microsoft Access. From there, it will be converted to an Excel spreadsheet to be analyzed, along with precipitation and other weather-related data collected in the department.
The purpose, Luffman says, is to see how Brush Creek responds to rainfall events, as well as to educate members of the community on the creek’s ecology.
“This is a citizen science project,” she explains. “The overall goal is to engage the community in science data collection and raise awareness of flooding in Brush Creek. We also want to connect ETSU and the Geosciences Department with the community. There’s a lot of work we do with the community, but this can broaden the number of people we get in contact with.”
Luffman describes Brush Creek as a “flashy stream,” one that is prone to the quick reaction to rainfall known as flash flooding. This, she says, is because of the shape of the watershed, with high relief and steep slopes that drain water quickly, along with prevalent “impervious surfaces,” such as parking lots, which do not absorb water but allow it to run off into storm drains, and from there into the stream.
Luffman noted that the city of Johnson City developed Founders Park, as well as the nearby King Commons area, to mitigate the adverse effects of frequent Brush Creek flooding in downtown Johnson City. These areas were designed not only to accommodate the extra water resulting from heavy rainfall, but also to create community spaces to be used for events and gatherings, fitness activities and other purposes.
“What these two projects have done is replace concrete with grass, reducing impervious surfaces, and provide a larger channel to carry more water away from the city,” she explains. “The amphitheater will provide additional storage of those floodwaters. If you look at the design of Founders Park from an elevation perspective, you see that as the water level rises, the channel gets wider, and then if it overflows onto the sidewalks, you have a bank or retaining wall on one side, where there are plantings, and a grassy field on the other side where flood waters can spread out and infiltrate. It looks pretty, but it also provides for flood protection.
“So my goal for this project is to engage the community that uses Founders Park to get an understanding of the flooding from a historical perspective and a scientific perspective, too. Anybody can do science.”
Luffman plans to continue the project as long as there is public interest, but suspects that as the technology becomes outdated, interest may wane. She plans to host more public educational events at Founders Park to help keep visitors to the park interested, such as a recent Brush Creek “data blast” event, where citizens measured water quality parameters. It also included a presentation on the city’s flood mitigation efforts by Will Tollefson, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Geosciences. And she hopes that frequent visitors to the park will be willing to text water measurements each time they stop by, and not think that “once is enough.”
“The more data we get, the better,” she said. “This is a partnership between the Department of Geosciences, the Johnson City Public Works Department and the Boone Watershed Partnership. We’re getting data that will be useful to the city.”
Luffman is actively involving undergraduate student researchers in this project. The text data collection method was designed by Wesley Vaughan before he graduated in May 2017 with his bachelor’s degree in geology. Geosciences major Victoria Anderson, who plans to graduate in May 2018, has assisted in data collection and public activities, and also gave a presentation on the project in November at the Southeast Division of the American Association of Geographers Conference in Starkville, Mississippi.
For more information, contact Luffman at 423-439-7551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.