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WVU Researcher Touts State’s Water Riches

MORGANTOWN — A good business decision might be for West Virginia to direct more of its vast water supply to food production, and less to fossil fuel extraction, according to a researcher at West Virginia University.

Nic Zegre, director of the WVU Mountain Hydrology Laboratory, addressed media from across the state during WVU Academic Media Day Monday.

The event took place at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown.

“West Virginia is all about business. It’s all about economic productivity…,” Zegre said. “Think water quality versus water supply. Is the water pollution associated with inexpensive energy production the best use of our water? When Washington D.C. is dependent on water generated here in West Virginia, is there an opportunity to rethink our economy based on the value of fresh water?”

West Virginia gets about 50 inches of rain per year, producing 1.2 billons of gallons of water, he said.

Zegre termed West Virginia a “headwater state,” and water not consumed here flows out to the Gulf of Mexico and into the Chesapeake Bay basin.

“West Virginia’s greatest resource, next to its people, is its water,” he said.

Nevertheless, Zegre considers the state “water insecure.” He cited the damage done by flooding in the southern areas of the state in 2016, and the 2014 chemical spill into the Elk River adversely affecting the water supply in Kanawha County.

And West Virginia continues to import most of its vegetables from the Central Valley in California, an area prone to draught conditions in recent years. The region also experiences wild fires and other natural disasters that can affect food production, he said.

Zegre presented data indicating that one ear of corn consumes 118 gallons of water while it is growing.

He also noted some non-food items that have needed water for their manufacturer. About 2,000 gallons of water have been used in the production of just one pair of jeans, an iPhone is responsible for the consumption of about 3,190 gallons of water, he said.

Amy Hessl, professor of geology, spoke of her visits to Mongolia to study climate history through rings found in trees.

Many of the trees are growing in lava in Mongolia, and contain “thousands of years of climate records,” she explained.

“There like a time machine, and can be used to see what climate conditions were like during previous civilzations in Mongolia,” Hessl said. “They’re not just dead wood. They tell a story.”

She removes a fragment from the living tree “only the size of a pencil” so as not to destroy the tree, she explained. The findings were compared to those found in rings in trees in Tasmania.

Antar Jutla, associate professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, discussed geohealth. That study combines that of geosciences with human health, he explained.

His work and that of his graduate students recently centered on the spread of cholera in Yemen. Their research was used to predict the outbreak, and the findings are being extended to Mozambique and other areas of the world.

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