Ohio River

Partnering with the Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), a group of four environmental engineering students researched how to prevent spills of hazardous materials from vehicles traveling across the Combs-Hehl Bridge from getting into the city's drinking water. 

Students within the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) worked to prevent contamination of Cincinnati’s water supply for their senior capstone project.

Partnering with the Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), the group of four environmental engineering students researched how to prevent spills of hazardous materials from vehicles traveling across the Combs-Hehl Bridge from getting into the city’s drinking water.

The project’s members included, Bethany Caspersz, Matthew Cummings, Dexter Adams and Qianhui Xia.

They discovered that storm drains spanning the length of the bridge were the primary cause of hazardous material entering the Ohio River, as spills on the bridge can quickly pour into the drains and down to the water supply.

“If we mitigate risk by removing the potential for contamination whenever we can, that helps us in our overall treatment approach,” said Richard Stuck, source water project manager for GCWW in a press release. “It’s much easier and cheaper to keep the contaminants out of the water in the first place than it is to take them out once they are there.” 

The Ohio River has repeatedly been ranked as one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, followed by the Mississippi River and the New River.

“This is a river where pollution is going to be a problem — one example of this is the algae bloom that happened over the summer and into the fall,” Madeline Fleisher, with the Ohio Office Law and Policy Center, previously told The News Record. “Some other issues are being dealt with; some aren’t.”

By using a red dye to observe the river’s flow pattern, the group was able to measure how spill from the bridge mixed with river water.

In studying these patterns through computer simulations, the group determined the best locations to divert spills and subsequently rerouted discharge from the bridge to an area of the river that is farther away from GCWW’s intake.

“The purpose of the dye study was to gain a better understanding of the river’s flow patterns downstream of the bridge so we can design an effective spill diversion system that will help safeguard the drinking water,” Stuck said.

In presenting its findings to a group of judges along with other student projects, the group’s capstone project received the highest rank.

“The students are working with sponsors who have a real interest, so there is a sense of accomplishment and purpose,” said Drew McAvoy, professor of chemical and environmental engineering, also in a press release. “It’s ‘real world’ in that they are presented with a problem that they’ve never had to deal with before and they have to figure out how to solve it.”

McAvoy was not immediately available for comment at the time of writing.

Working with outside partners gave the students experience solving real problems that affect people and communities before the graduate from UC.

The GCWW also plans to present the group’s findings at this year’s Water Management Conference in Minneapolis.