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Institute for Clean Water

Mapping and Modeling Water Quality

We are developing a visual and analytic approach for identifying potential contaminant sources into an impacted stream or a water sampling site using a coupled geographic information (GIS) and remote sensing resource system.

Mapping the Causes of Poor Water Quality 

This working group's research centers around determining the causes of poor water quality and presenting them in a geographic way. To do this, we're developing a visual and analytic approach for identifying potential contaminant sources using a geographic information and remote sensing resource system. The geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing approach will also be used to guide other research efforts in selecting sampling sites and survey populations.

This system will have a water network database for analyzing our observations. The data gathered will include finescale current and historical data on population, land use change, terrain models, point source withdrawals/inputs and aerial imagery.

Research Significance

  • With this research, we can closely examine the relationship between expected poor water quality causes and the actual observed water quality. This will help us see how or if the suspected causes affect water quality. 

  • This research allows us to see the strength of the correlation between urbanized landscapes—or point source contributors—and impaired water quality.

Groundbreaking Research

The geographic information and remote sensing resource system will take into account not only newly recorded water quality samples, but also historical data from federal, state and county data sources that are either publicly available or available through an agreement. This approach provides us a comprehensive view of an area's water quality throughout the years.

Our water quality mapping will use downsized data like population and housing counts to create a finer resolution map to at least a sub-basin level. We anticipate using data from a set of sub-basins, including urbanized and natural landscape types, to better understand the water quality in both areas impacted by commercialization and those that are not. 

Research Challenge

Determining causal factors for impaired water quality is a multi-faceted problem. While the correlation between the built-up landscape and impaired water quality is theoretically strong, the relationship is not entirely consistent. Some sub-basins and their streams have poor water quality and yet do not contain large, urbanized landscapes while other sub-basins have good water quality and yet are in an urbanized context. Why?

Purpose: The purpose of this working group's research is to model the
relationship between expected causal relationships and observed water quality.

Research Vision: A visual and analytic approach for identifying contaminant sources using a geographic information and remote sensing resource system that can be used to identify correlations, the strength of correlations, anomalies and likely explanations

Hypothesis 1: Intermittent or episodic water quality issues may be strongly linked to changes in surface water flow, largely from precipitation events, rapid land cover change (e.g., clearings for timber harvests or subdivision development) or even catastrophic events (such as small earthen dam failures or accidental releases.)

Hypothesis 2: Drivers of water quality changes may, for many locations, only be identifiable at very local scales of analysis.


SC Impact

This research will have a positive on the understanding of water quality and new ways to manage risks to ecosystems across South Carolina. While this is a state-wide research focus, certain areas of public interest will benefit greatly from this institute's work. 

Increased Awareness of Water Quality Issues

This research will lead to deeper and broader understanding of the water quality in our state while also seeking to educate the public about the safety and quality of water where they live, work and play.

Wildlife and Aquatic Ecosystems

Understanding the health of aquatic ecosystems leads to maintaining the health of animals and humans in water and on land. This research will help protect our local wildlife and aquatic ecosystems, enabling them to thrive. 

Tourism and Economic Development

This research will seek to understand the differences between objective measures of water quality and subjective perceptions, which will aid tourism and industry for the advancement of our state's economic development. 

Environmental Awareness

This research will raise overall awareness about the effects of water quality on the environment and why it is so important to protect our waterways as a state.

Notable Awards, Outcomes, and Practical Uses for this Research

We are constantly making progress with this research and planning real-world uses to improve water quality maintenance and understanding across South Carolina.


Institute for Clean Water

    Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.