Since 2009, water quality has become a central issue in conversations concerning Marcellus Shale development. This project investigates the broader context of water risks. Development, industry, and even natural geomorphic elements have the potential to stress on hydrological and sensitive ecological systems. In an effort to quantify potential water risks, a physical spatial model was developed using ArcGIS ModelBuilder. The theoretical underpinnings for the model emphasizes current location-based data with regional variables to determine the most probable distribution of the given phenomenon. Through a qualitative lens, water risks were evaluated and assigned values depending upon their direct and indirect impact to the landscape.
The objective of the “Potential Water Risks” model is to rapidly assess risk on a landscape scale. In order to estimate risk, several anthropogenic and environmental variables were used. Indirect environmental factors, direct environmental factors, development, and industry composed the primary classification framework. Further subsets of these categories were determined and given different value systems based on their relevance to water quality and water quantity. For example, erosion is a major factor that influences stream quality, specifically water turbidity, water temperature, and local flora and fauna abundance. Soil erodibility, a casual component and direct environmental variable, plays an essential role in determining the health of a stream and is therefore a variable considered within the model. Soil erodibility values were calculated using the k-factor of soil types, classifying soils into low, medium, and high given soil texture and composition. A total of 25 variables were assessed and given values. To reduce bias from data where locations were not exact, a small watersheds scale was used to minimize concentrated values.
Overall, the model offers a creative spatial framework that analytically calculates areas within the landscape that are potentially at risk for water pollution. By determining areas most at risk, the model provides guidance to communities, organizations and agencies involved in planning and development. Through its application, this model can highlight regions of great water risk and assist in ascertaining most appropriate locations for anthropogenic activity to congregate.