â€œThis is it,â€ PhD student Chelsea Panos â€™15 says when talkingÂ about how much she loves hydrology. â€œI didnâ€™t discover hydrologyÂ until my senior year when I took hydrology lab, and then I was like,Â this is really it. Environmental engineering is cool, but this is whereÂ it is.â€
Panos began her journey at Mines as an undergraduate student inÂ the physics department before discovering her true passion: environmentalÂ engineering, and more specificallyâ€”hydrology. This passionÂ earned her an Outstanding Graduating Senior Award at the end ofÂ her undergraduate career. â€œIt was awesome to be recognized for allÂ of the hard work I had put into four and a half years here,â€ she says.Â â€œThat reception was definitely a highlight of graduation.â€
But her journey at Mines didnâ€™t end there; Panos immediatelyÂ returned to pursue a PhD in the Hydrologic Science and EngineeringÂ (HSE) program, one of the top hydrology programs in the UnitedÂ States. Through this program, Panos was given the opportunity of aÂ lifetime when the City and County of Denver approached Mines withÂ a project related to stormwater modeling in the Berkeley neighborhood.Â Although she had previously participated in stormwaterÂ research in Los Angeles, when offered the chance to work in herÂ own backyard, there was no way Panos could pass it up. â€œThatâ€™sÂ the dream, to do what you love doing but in a place thatâ€™s home,â€Â she says.
Denverâ€™s Berkeley project looks at how infill development, or reurbanization,Â impacts stormwater quality and quantity. The researchÂ focuses on the development of a stormwater-modeling tool forÂ implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) in re-urbanizedÂ areas using the EPAâ€™s System for Urban Stormwater Treatment andÂ Analysis IntegratioN (SUSTAIN) model. â€œOne of the unique challengesÂ weâ€™re facing in Denver that we didnâ€™t see in Los Angeles is aÂ lack of data availability, so right now weâ€™re collecting data within theÂ basin,â€ Panos explains. â€œWeâ€™re installing our own sensors within theÂ storm sewer network in the Berkeley neighborhood.â€
Panos regularly goes out into the field to stream gauge and downloadÂ the data to use in her model. â€œSometimes I feel like a stormÂ chaser, because when it rains, I get to go out there and collect myÂ own data,â€ she says. â€œI know exactly where that data came from, IÂ analyze it, and I then put it into my model.â€
Her research is particularly important to Denver now, as the cityÂ continues to attract new residents. â€œThe population of Denver isÂ expected to increase by over 100,000 people in the next 10 years,Â so thatâ€™s really going to change how water is used,â€ Panos says.Â Stormwater could be a valuable resource to help offset some of thisÂ significant urban growth.
Panos also sees a need for similar research all across the West.Â â€œWe were never supposed to build giant cities in the middle ofÂ deserts like Los Angeles, and people are realizing the potential forÂ harnessing stormwater to help out these water-stressed areas and toÂ increase water security,â€ she says. â€œStormwater is this cool, untappedÂ resource right now, and thereâ€™s so much research popping up to lookÂ into how we can use stormwater and treat it to increase both waterÂ quantity and quality.â€
In recognition of her efforts on the Denver stormwater project,Â Panos recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF)Â Graduate Research Fellowship. The NSF program supports graduateÂ students in STEM fields across the U.S., and Panos received oneÂ of 2,000 award offers selected from about 17,000 applications. SheÂ plans to use this award to help further her professional developmentÂ and research goals.
Panos hopes to continue urban hydrology research in the futureÂ and share her knowledge with others. She says, â€œA lot of unique challengesÂ arise from being in an urban area, and just the whole idea ofÂ bringing a part of nature back into the city is really cool.â€