NCCU Awarded Grant to Monitor Water Quality 

Posted January 27, 2022, 11:22AM
Christopher ZarZar, Ph.D., assistant professor of Environmental Earth and Geospatial Sciences

Funds provided by State Attorney General’s Office

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Assistant Professor of Environmental Earth and Geospatial Sciences Christopher Zarzar, Ph.D., in collaboration with professors at two North Carolina institutions, has received a three-year, $250,000 water quality research grant. The Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG) was awarded to NCCU, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) and Wake Forest University (WFU) by the N.C. State Attorney General’s Office.

NCCU expects to receive its portion of the grant, $90,000, in mid-March.

“The purpose of these grant funds is to create a water quality monitoring system. The goal of that system is to better understand and monitor water quality, while also having early detection of harmful algal blooms,” Zarzar said. “Blooms are a concern because they can release a neurotoxin, which is harmful to fish, pets and people.”

The project will begin in High Rock Lake and will later be expanded to other North Carolina lakes, Zarzar said.

Titled, “A Comprehensive and Low-cost Water Quality Monitoring System for North Carolina Lakes,” the project will involve training volunteers in a community-based program.  NCCU and N.C. A&T State University will unite to collect water samples by flying drones and develop an interactive web portal. WFU will conduct satellite monitoring with satellite data.

“I’m excited about every grant, but I’m especially excited about this one because it’s close to home,” Zarzar said. “It involves fresh water, we don’t have much of it, everyone needs it and we need to protect it. This goes way beyond Fayetteville Street or NCCU’s campus. The key is that the system we create will be essentially a ground-to-space water quality monitoring system, and the goal after this to build it out for all of the lakes across North Carolina.”

NCCU College of Health and Sciences Interim Dean La Verne Reid, Ph.D., MPH, is thrilled the Attorney General’s office is recognizing the critical contribution Zarzar and professors from WFU and N.C. A&T will make.

“Water quality is vitally important to everyone, and I’m very proud of Dr. Christopher Zarzar for serving as the principal investigator on this grant for NCCU,” Reid said. “This grant is among nearly $3 million in grants awarded from the Attorney General’s Office, and a priority was placed on applications that emphasized environmental justice, which makes NCCU’s participation in the project even more meaningful.”

Beginning in March 2022, Zarzar will train one graduate student and two undergraduate students on collecting water samples in High Rock Lake, north of Charlotte, N.C. During a typical day, they will head out early in the morning and spend several hours in the field.

It can be hard work, but its importance overshadows that, he said.

“Our reservoirs are meant to be for fishing and recreational activities like swimming, but many of them are impaired and don’t meet the requirements to be considered safe for some activities,” Zarzar said. “One of the big things that needs to be resolved is how much stuff, including agricultural runoff and fertilizer from yards, can actually go into lakes and keep the lakes safe.”

The Environmental Enhancement Grant Program began in 2000 with an agreement between the Attorney General’s Office and Smithfield Foods through which Smithfield provides $2 million annually to the state, and the Attorney General’s office distributes among environmental projects. Since its inception, nearly $37 million has been awarded to more than 190 projects.

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