ETSU student devotes research to ensure clean drinking water for NETN residents

Published 1:59 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2021

JOHNSON CITY — Maintaining access to a clean water supply and keeping it drinkable is a top priority for the nearly 10% of Tennesseans who get their water from private water sources like karst springs and groundwater wells. To ensure supplies from karst springs located in Northeast Tennessee are safe for consumption, Lukman Fashina, a graduate student in the East Tennessee State University Department of Geosciences, is spending some award-winning time in the field and in the research lab.
For his master’s thesis, Fashina received the 2021 Richard A. Herbert Memorial Education Scholarship from American Water Resources Association (AWRA) and was awarded the 2021 Water Resources Specialty Group Student Research Proposal Award from the American Association of Geographers (AAG).
He continues this semester to investigate water quality in Northeast Tennessee’s karst springs.
A karst is a type of land formation, usually with many caves formed through the dissolving of limestone by underground drainage. Karst springs are formed when water exits the eroded underground tunnels and forms surface pools. In a karst spring, water flows to the surface through permeable rocks, and from there is often used as a source of drinking water whenever a public utility is not readily available.
“Karst springs are an essential source of private water supply,” said Fashina. “However, there are no regulatory standards for private (drinking) water quality in the state, unlike public water systems. Those who depend on a private water supply are only advised to periodically test for contaminants in their private water sources, such as springs or other domestic wells, but given the high level of vulnerability to contamination of water in a karst environment, where water quality is also generally known to be spatially and temporally dynamic in terms of chemical quality, I intend to investigate the water quality of these roadside springs.”
Using samples of the collected drinking water for his tests, Fashina processes them through analyses at the ETSU Geosciences lab, with a component of the analyses also conducted at the Tennessee Department of Health’s Nashville Central Laboratory. He then compares it to the water quality of streams into which the springs discharge. The outcome gives those who use the spring a clearer picture regarding the safety of their drinking water.
Away from the springs and streams of Northeast Tennessee, Fashina, a native of Nigeria, was also part of the Summer 2021 NASA DEVELOP National Program team, where worked remotely with other members from across the U.S. on “Monitoring Surface Water Extents of Remote Stock Ponds in the Southwestern United States Using Earth Observing Systems for Enhanced Water Resources Management.” A part of Fashina’s curricula practical training, this interdisciplinary research team was based in Idaho, with the project managed remotely due to the COVID pandemic. This research will allow wildlife managers and ranchers throughout the Southwest to determine the water extent of stock ponds using satellite data, even from remote locations.
In addition to his AWRA honor, Fashina is a recipient of the American Association of Geographers’ (AAG) Water Resources Specialty Group (WRSG) Student Research Proposal Award. At ETSU he has received the 2021-22 Dr. Michael and Nina Marchioni Scholarship from the Department of Geosciences; was named the department’s best new graduate student in geospatial analysis (his major concentration) for 2020-21; and earned the graduate school’s 2021 research grants award in support of his current master’s thesis research. He said he is profoundly grateful to his thesis advisor Dr. Ingrid Luffman, an associate professor of geosciences at ETSU, for his research and academic progress in the program.
Fashina’s AWRA award will be presented at the annual Water Resources Conference in Florida this November. The AAG award was presented virtually in April.
For more information about the ETSU Department of Geosciences, visit