For the winter newsletter, the Watershed Alliance of Southeast Pennsylvania had the opportunity to sit down and hear about Dr. Welker’s stormwater monitoring work. Andrea L. Welker, PhD, PE is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Pennsylvania. Dr. Welker teaches undergraduate soil mechanics, soil mechanics laboratory, geology, foundation design, and capstone design and graduate level courses in geoenvironmental engineering and geosynthetics. She is the Associate Director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership. Most of Dr. Welker’s research focuses on studying the geotechnical aspects of stormwater control measures (SCMs) including rain gardens and permeable pavements. Dr. Welker is currently part of a multi-state, multi-year effort supported by the William Penn Foundation to ensure plentiful, clean water in the Delaware River Watershed.
What led you to start researching/ implementing sustainable stormwater management practices?
It started as a conversation by the water cooler with Rob Traver about how to obtain pore water samples in the unsaturated zone of our oldest rain garden.
How has the field of engineering evolved to include sustainable stormwater management practices?
A decade ago we were in the process of proving that these practices work, now we are trying to improve our understanding how they work to improve design.
What role does Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership play into the greater William Penn Foundation’s initiative on improving water quality?
We are extremely fortunate to be part of the Upstream Suburban Philadelphia. This particular cluster is unique amongst the other DRWI clusters as we have a strong focus on restoration and monitoring. This varied group works well together to achieve the goal of improving water quality in the region. Specifically, Villanova will be monitoring stormwater control measures (SCMs) and we are working with Temple to model these SCMs and the watersheds. In addition, we have been working with Temple, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Lower Merion Conservancy, and Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association to develop outreach and education programs.
How has research and data transformed the way people manage stormwater?
I believe it has allowed us to move from proving these control measures work to figuring out how to improve designs. We need to be careful, however, that we don’t over complicate things and scare people away. The key thing is that it is all about restoring the hydrologic cycle and you can talk about that to anyone!
How do you coordinate with municipal governments and non-profits to implement stormwater management?
William Penn’s DRWI really helped to provide a forum for this type of coordination to occur. For example, the VUSP worked very closely with the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership to implement and instrument a rain garden at Abington Friends School. In addition, the Municipal Workshop that we just held in October on Villanova’s campus was planned by PEC (specifically Paul Racette and Susan Myerov), Jan Bowers of Chester County, and Villanova’s Urban Stormwater Partnership. This event brought more than a hundred municipal officials together to learn about how to implement and pay for stormwater management.
Through your research, how has Villanova’s curriculum changed to include sustainable stormwater management practices?
We are so fortunate to have so many highly instrumented stormwater control measures on campus. The professors in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department incorporate these into our classes as much as possible. For example, freshman analyzed phosphorous concentrations in our oldest rain garden, sophomores considered how stormwater controls could be implemented as part of a redevelopment project on Villanova’s campus, juniors tour our demonstration park, and seniors design stormwater controls from the bottom up. Our graduate students see fresh data from our research sites in many classes as well. It’s everywhere!
What advice would you give to people hoping to pursue a similar career in stormwater research and monitoring?
We are getting much smarter about monitoring – we are now using it to improve designs and to let us know when maintenance needs to occur. There are so many unanswered questions and there is a lot of work to be done. I think we have to remember that there is room for many levels of sophistication in stormwater management and that more complicated isn’t always better.