Arkansas Water Resources Center plays important role protecting water quality

By: Erin Scott, program manager of the Arkansas Water Resources Center & Angela Danovi, Ozarks Water Watch Arkansas Projects Manager.

The Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Science

The new state of the art  Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences opened at The University of Arkansas on November 16, 2017 to much fanfare and excitement.  Ozarks Water Watch staff attended the grand opening to represent their partnership with Arkansas Water Resources Center Water Quality Lab through the StreamSmart volunteer monitoring program.

For more than five years, Arkansas Water Resources Center Water Quality Lab has served as a critical partner with Ozarks Water Watch in the StreamSmart volunteer monitoring program.  Each quarter, AWRC accepts over 20 samples into their lab and analyzes those samples for nutrients, suspended solids, dissolved solids, pH, alkalinity and conductivity.  Their analyses increases the quality and reliability of data from the StreamSmart volunteer monitoring program and provides thousands of dollars of in-kind analytical services each year towards volunteer water quality monitoring in the Beaver Lake Watershed.  The AWRC budgets its own funds to cover the costs of sample analyses so the limited StreamSmart resources can be directed towards equipment purchases, volunteer recruitment and training, and publication of data and information associated with the program. Additionally, AWRC personnel serve on the advisory board to provide technical support and input for the volunteer monitoring program as well as to provide education and training each year for new volunteers.  The partnership between Ozarks Water Watch and AWRC also gives the public more awareness of the water center and how the AWRC positively impacts the community.

Erin Scott, AWRC program manager, conducts a training for new StreamSmart volunteers

For the last several years, the AWRC lab has been housed in the smaller and older biomass building, located behind the new building. With the opening of the new building, the water quality lab relocated into a new state of the art wing of the Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences. The new building covers 54,000 square feet, with the majority of it as lab space. It’s also a certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver building, meaning that it’s designed to be sustainable, highly efficient, and provide cost-savings benefits.

The AWRC staff and lab technicians are thrilled with the new space, “we get a lot of natural light and it just feels better in here than in the old space we were in before,” said Keith Trost, analytical technician who works daily at the lab. The new lab also is great for public perception. People love to see fancy new state-of-the-art facilities. “We give a lot of lab tours to water stakeholders and students,” says Brina Smith, analytical technician with the lab. “I think the beautiful new lab will really stick in their minds in a very positive way.”  The new AWRC lab is definitely an upgrade from the old facility. For example, new or better safety features are in place, such as fume hoods, lighting, and a negative pressure system for air quality. Also, there’s simply more space; now the lab can accommodate more staff and students working alongside each other without bumping elbows. The extra space also allows room to grow!

Brina Smith in the new AWRC lab

Jennifer Purtle, AWRC technician, prepares for water water quality analysis in the new AWRC lab

In addition to supporting StreamSmart, AWRC conducts their own water quality monitoring, which is primarily funded by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and the Poteau Valley Improvement Authority. These monitoring projects support a number of people including post-doctoral and student positions. They collect water samples from 15 sites in northwest Arkansas in the Upper White and Upper Illinois River watersheds, and about 35 sites in the Poteau River watershed in Oklahoma and in Arkansas. The goal of these projects is to understand how water quality is changing over time and to help identify areas in the watershed where resources should be targeted to improve water quality.

The AWRC also focuses on training students through various programs. For example, undergraduate and graduate students work with the Center director, Brian Haggard, on research projects through the Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Freshman Engineering programs at the University of Arkansas. The AWRC also funds research by other faculty and students throughout the State through the US Geological Survey 104B program. Summer interns and hourly personnel are also supported by the water center.

Dr. Brad Austin, AWRC researcher and StreamSmart volunteer, conducts research on phosphorus availability of soils

The Arkansas Water Resources Center (AWRC) is part of a network of 54 water institutes established by the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 and is located at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  AWRC operates the water quality lab in service to researchers, landowners, and others across Arkansas. The Lab is certified by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) for the analysis of a variety of constituents in water samples, such as nutrients, sediments, metals, bacteria, and more.

Anyone can submit a water sample for the analysis of any of the available parameters they choose. The lab also offers analytical “packages” to target the needs of producers for livestock, crops, and fish. To learn more about AWRC, please visit their website at

You can also follow them on facebook and twitter to keep up with their research and activities.