Augie students are helping more cities build water systems

On Thursday, June 13, Augustana College students will survey 300 homes in Port Byron as part of the college’s next chapter of helping local municipalities inventory their water lines.

Seventeen students will work on the Port Byron project through Sept. 1, 2024. Peyton Heisch, Augustana’s sustainability manager and leader of the waterworks project, said students will also use the historic copper designation on all village homes newer than 1986 . according to the university’s announcement, data from previous studies were used to determine which houses should be included in the acquisition campaign.

Augustana student research assistants Adriana Reyes and Erik Bergren at a Rock Island neighborhood canvassing event. Reyes, a junior geography major, is the GIS specialist for the Port Byron project.

Augustana students and faculty first partnered with the city of Rock Island in July 2022 to identify and inventory the city’s main water lines. The project, which emphasized engaged learning and community engagement, was initiated by the Illinois Lead Service Line Exchange and Notification Act, a bill passed in 2022 that requires cities to inventory lead service lines, implement replacements and coordinate financial strategies to finance work. The law also requires prioritization of low-income neighborhoods.

The Rock Island project was completed in November 2023 after findings and financing proposals were presented to city officials. This project included over 12,000 residential houses, which constituted 25% of the entire city’s resources. Project leaders used predictive modeling to estimate the remaining 75%.

Both projects emphasize all three elements of Augustana’s strategic plan, Bold & Boundless, which prioritizes engaged learning, maximizing student potential and connecting through partnerships, the university said.

“The water supply inventory project is multidisciplinary in nature and allows Augustana students to refine their data collection and interpersonal skills as they engage with residents of our community to improve water quality in our region,” Heisch said. “This is an incredible opportunity and we have benefited from these experiences as much as the coordinating cities.”

Water utility inventory projects are being led by the Upper Mississippi Center in Augustana and the Community Health and Wellness Development Center. Student scientist Adriana Reyes, a junior geography major, is the GIS specialist for the Port Byron project.

“Collaborating with Port Byron on the service line project will enable more students and residents to learn about safe drinking water and provide students with real-world experiences,” she said.

In early June, Port Byron residents received a postcard attached to their water bills describing the pre-canvassing project on June 13. Augustana students will deliver a draft inventory to the village by the end of June and a draft prioritization plan by the end of July.

Heisch said the university is collecting data and findings, with a goal to complete the work by Sept. 1. Port Byron received a $30,000 grant and deadline extension from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to help the village comply with Illinois law. In 2023, 260 Illinois systems received grants ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 per award to help build the inventory. The original deadline for completing this work was set for April 15, 2024.

Additional EPA grants in Rock Island County include $50,000 each for Moline and East Moline and $30,000 for Hampton.

Under Illinois law, cities have two years to develop a replacement plan and then up to 20 years to replace main lines.