The Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory (OWML) was established in 1972 to serve as an unbiased source of scientific monitoring and information for the nation’s first deliberate indirect potable reuse program. This program, which has operated successfully for the last 50 years, provides a drought-proof, environmentally sensitive, and high quality source of water for nearly 2 million residents in Fairfax County, Virginia. Extramural support for the OWML has grown from $300-400,000 in 1972 to about $1.5-2 million, today.
The historical public-service focus of the lab is giving way to a hybrid model, in which the core monitoring program is a metaphorical launch pad for extramurally funded research programs aimed at solving some of the most vexing grand challenges of our time. To realize this vision, the lab recently hired three academic (Teaching and Research) staff, including two Assistant Professors and a Full Professor, with academic appointments in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, bringing the total to four. This academic investment expands on 2 research associates and 10 full and part-time field, laboratory and support staff who shepherd the OWML’s ongoing monitoring responsibilities. This unique mix of academic and professional staff provides an exciting bench-to-practice environment for the lab’s 3 M.S. and 7 Ph.D. students.
For 50 years, our nation’s first experiment in deliberate indirect potable reuse has been an unqualified success. Along the way the OWML has collected mountains of data and forged close relationships with many of the most influential water utilities and municipalities in Northern Virginia. Working with partners throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the OWML is in a unique position to leverage these experiences into best practices and “clinical guidelines” for protecting water supplies and aquatic ecosystems throughout the US and globally.