- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

CULPEPER, Va. (AP) - When four Eastern View High School students learned about the recurring flooding of Mountain Run throughout Yowell Meadow Park at the intersection of Sperryville Pike and Blue Ridge Avenue, ideas to fix the problem began to flow.

With the guidance of Stephanie DeNicola-Turner, education/information coordinator for the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District, the team’s solution for the issue was to install a weir, or small adjustable dam, to control the rising water after heavy downpours.

And for their efforts, the team of EVHS freshmen: Caroline Yi, Katie Street, Adora Txakeeyang and Amilcar Gomez placed second in the state during the 13th annual eCybermission contest, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition, which is part of the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program.

Sponsored by the U.S. Army and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, eCybermission is an online competition designed to help build students’ interest and knowledge in STEM courses.

“The U.S. Army applauds all the students for challenging themselves to this STEM competition in efforts to improve their communities,” said Louie R. Lopez, program manager for eCybermission. “Congratulations to all the state winning teams and we encourage students to continue building their interest and knowledge in STEM.”

The purpose of the contest is to challenge sixth- through ninth-grade students with developing a solution to a real-world problem in their own communities. For winning, the EVHS students garnered $500 each in savings bonds.

EVHS chemistry teacher Craig Dennis, who served as the group’s adviser, described his students’ solution as incredible.

“These kids did an excellent job,” said Dennis. “Working with the best and brightest young people gives me hope that the future will be bright. I would like to be proud or take satisfaction in their work, but that would be wrong. It was their effort and desire that led to the accomplishment. I provided time and a space for them to succeed.”

Assessing the issues

As part of the group’s project, the team described the flooding as dangerous to the environmental, social and economical climate if not treated.

“From an environmental perspective, the flooding of the park becomes a nesting ground for mosquitoes, bacteria, sewage and debris from runoff,” the group wrote as part of its research paper. “This poses a threat to the animals and humans that use the park.”

The students also stated how frequent flooding prevents park visitors from enjoying various activities such as special events, reunions, sporting competitions, exercising and enjoying its natural scenic wildlife trail.

The team added that constant flooding also costs the town money, since it destroys the asphalt and the equipment.

“Economically, the park has had to spend and budget monies for the repair and replacement of the concrete and equipment associated with the skate park,” the group explained. “The park may have more than one flood per year, so it is a repetitive payment for something that can be prevented.”

Before taking on the project, Street said she’d often notice the park’s flooding.

“I always that thought it was really bad,” Street explained.

Starting last fall, Yi said this project took about six months to complete. If installed, the weir would be placed in the heavily wooded section of the park near Monument Lane.

To get the job done, Yi said the team used topographic maps and geographic information systems to help solve the problem instead of getting dirty in the trenches.

“We needed to know the elevations, and we couldn’t really measure that by walking along the water,” explained Yi.

Dennis said his students will go on to compete in eCybermission’s northeast regional competition.

Professional feedback

Charles Rapp, the town’s director of planning and community development, said most of Yowell Meadow Park is within the 100-year flood plain and naturally floods during peak storms throughout the year. The 100-year floodplain typically means there’s a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year.

“Due to the frequent flooding, properties located within the 100-year floodplain delineation are not suitable for traditional land development but they make excellent park sites,” explained Rapp. “From a park usability standpoint, it is obviously unfortunate that the park floods, but from an environmental standpoint, the floodplain is functioning as nature intended.”

According to Rapp, the Yowell Meadow Park floodplain provides “additional storage capacity for when the water levels in Mountain Run rise above the stream banks.”

“Eventually the water levels will recede and the stream will return to normal flow levels,” Rapp added.

Rapp also noted that frequent flooding has caused skate park equipment to deteriorate. And to fix the problem, town officials decided years ago to “retrofit the skate park with concrete elements that can withstand flood waters.”

In the end, Rapp called the student’s approach interesting, stating that it “would address flooding in a portion of the park but the cost to construct the weir would be significant and would involve extensive permitting.”

Jim Hoy, director of the town’s public works department, said the flooding “impact to facilities is minimal with the exception of debris cleanup for high water events.”

Asked how she feels about the recent recognition from the state, Txakeeyang called the acknowledgement a “big deal.”

“I’m really proud of our team because we worked really hard on this,” said Txakeeyang.

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Information from: Culpeper Star-Exponent, http://www.starexponent.com

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