W&L Student Studying Flow Conditions On The Maury

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Editor’s note: The following story was written by Erica Turman, media relations coordinator for Washington and Lee University. It appeared on the W&L website late last month.

Chantal Iosso, a rising senior and a geology and environmental science major at Washington and Lee, is spending a lot of time at the Maury River these days. However, she isn’t floating, kayaking or fishing the shallow waterway. This summer, Iosso is staying around Lexington to measure cross-sections of the stream to check flow conditions now that Jordans Point dam has been removed. She plans to discuss her findings in her senior thesis.

The 120-year-old dam at Jordans Point Park has sparked much discussion in Lexington over the past few years. In 2017, citing safety concerns and repair costs that could climb into the millions, Lexington’s city council voted to remove it. The dam removal was completed in May, and the demolition offered a chance to restore and improve the river’s current ecosystem —an opportunity Iosso didn’t want to miss.

“This is a project that is relevant to Lexington, and it fits perfectly into my academic interest,” she said. “Professor David Harbor, Washington and Lee professor of geology, offered students the opportunity to study conditions after the removal, and I jumped at the chance.”

Using a surveyors’ instrument called a total station, Iosso can measure the elevation and location of points along the river. In her research, she is looking for changes in the shape of the channel and in the river’s sediment-carrying capacity. She is also studying whether the river banks are failing.

To do this, Harbor goes to one side of the river and sets up a small mirror. Using the total station, which is equipped with a laser that reflects off of the mirror, Iosso takes detailed measurements in a small notebook.

“So far, we haven’t seen much change in the stream other than the water level drop,” said Iosso. “We aren’t going to be able to witness significant changes until after a major rain event.”

With nearly every major watershed in the United States housing a dam of some nature, Iosso says her research is not only relevant but significant and timely.

“Dam removal projects can have a major impact on the local area even immediately after removal, or years into the future,” she said. “It’s an area that is important to study.”

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