SUNY Fredonia student research aims to improve Area Creek restoration efforts


Compiling research leading to better watershed management in Chautauqua and Erie counties is the central goal of three SUNY Fredonia geology students who engage in hands-on field and laboratory experiments. Elizabeth Wightman of Campbell, Abigail Nordwall of Jamestown, and Brett Boyer of Randolph — all seniors majoring in geology — are learning various aspects of stream management and monitoring at Dewittville Creek in Chautauqua County and Spooner Creek in Erie County.

Assistant Professor of Geology and Environmental Science, Matthew Purtill, says, “Students learn to perform a variety of stream measurements, analyzes and interpretations in the laboratory. It is a unique experience for the student, as they can generate “real world” data that will ultimately help various communities make decisions. to improve water quality and stream health. According to Dr. Purtill, what is at the heart of the research is how erosion can be linked to the cloudy appearance of water and its actual flow volume. He says students seek to understand the potential of streams to erode their banks.

In conjunction with the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District, students are continuing a multi-year study that monitors the effectiveness of a major shoreline restoration project undertaken to control erosion in Dewittville Creek. Significant stream migration and erosion at a specific bend in the creek prompted the construction of a rock wall structure to stabilize the creek bank and the placement of several spurs to redirect the flow of water away from the shore. Over $100,000 was spent on these upgrades. Another element of the Dewittville Creek study is sediment flow that creates sandbars in Chautauqua Lake that become obstacles for boaters. The stream data generated by the students will also be incorporated into a larger study of harmful algal blooms.

At Spooner Creek, a tributary of Cattaraugus Creek, students partner with New York State DEC staff in compiling additional data on how best to manage the Cattaraugus watershed. The murky conditions in the creek have been attributed to erosion along the banks of the creek which is negatively impacting the fishing industry, a major economic driver.

SUNY geology majors Fredonia Elizabeth Wightman (left), Brett Boyer (center) and Abigail Nordwall (right) collect water samples from suspended sediments in Dewittville Creek. Photo by SUNY Fredonia


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