| Team Seeks Clues to Better Water Resources
Students learn research methods while
helping local water district
April 21, 2005
By Laurie McLaughlin
It takes just under two hours to go from campus to the Lucerne
Valley 's Este Hydrologic Sub-basis, a patch of desert in
the Mojave. Once there, a band of professors and students
are hunting for clues to better manage groundwater resources.
Richard Laton, assistant professor of geological sciences,
and a team of students are using surveying and GPS techniques
to locate underground wells, and then drill holes to get
a close up view.
"Sometimes we go out and spend the night," says Laton. "We
do a lot of drilling, so we're out there for prolonged periods
"We send a gamma ray tool down that tells us the geology
surrounding the well," Laton says. The team also extends
video cameras into the holes to observe the condition of
the wells and where the water's coming into them. Along with
other tests, the team monitors both the fluctuation in the
level of the water and its quality.
What the team finds offers insight to
local agencies, including the Mojave Water District, about
how best to "manage and
get the water into the ground faster," the researcher says,
adding that this year has been especially interesting with
a record amount of rainfall. "We come up with ways for them
to better manage the water so that it increases groundwater
levels versus letting it run down the river.
"In normal years, we see small fluctuations in the water
levels, which could just be because a guy turned his pump
on," he stresses. "But this year we should see a big bounce,
and we can relate it back to exact measurements in precipitation."
The result of this research is a 1,000-page document and
35-page summary tailored to explain the team's findings to
the general public. The combination of field work, lab research
and testing, publication and community outreach is funded
by a $390,000, one-year extension of a multi-year research
grant from the Mojave Water Agency. This is in addition to
several previous grants the agency awarded to Laton and John
Foster, professor of geological sciences.
As for the students involved, "they learn that scientific
method and hypothesis testing is still a requirement to organize
one's thoughts about non-academic activities, like drilling
a well or understanding water yield properties of aquifers," says
Foster. They also learn manual techniques, such as surveying
and digital mapping – skills that may seem less glamorous
than the reports they publish, but are proficiencies that
will contribute to their professional expertise.
"The students get satisfaction in helping people while gaining
knowledge," says Laton, noting that four undergraduate and
graduate theses have resulted from this year's project. "It's
always amazing how little people know about where their water
comes from and how it's impacted by human activities."
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