Kansas Agricultural Watershed Field Research Facility

Midwestern row-crop agriculture is recognized as being highly productive, but is also cited for impairing surrounding ecosystems and impacting environmental quality. Water quality is a key metric utilized to characterize the health of an agricultural watershed. Therefore, it is important to know how new or alternative management practices impact water quality. With this in mind, the Kansas Agricultural Watershed (KAW) Field Laboratory was created in 2014 to study the effects of agricultural systems on water, sediment and nutrient losses. The goal of the KAW field lab is to evaluate and develop sustainable conservation practices that protect water quality, maintain yield and profitability and provide producers with flexible options for management of crops and nutrients.

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2019 One Water Summit

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This year, several member institutes of the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR) attended the One Water Summit in Austin, Texas as a delegation. At the end of the conference, each delegation provided a commitment to action for what goals they seek to achieve over the next year.

NIWR’s commitment to action was delivered by Melissa Miller, Associate Director for the Iowa Water Center (see image above).

Researchers Looking into the Effects of Pharmaceuticals on Fish in Iowa’s Waterways

Written by Sarah Feehan

 

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At field site in Coralville, Iowa. 

Lab-reared, native minnows have been living in fish cages placed in a stream for the last four days, and now a team of researchers collects them to study the impacts of water quality on aquatic organisms.

For nearly the past two years, these researchers have been measuring chemical concentrations in the same stream, and this caged fish experiment is one of the ways researchers are connecting chemical presence in the environment to possible biological effects.

Greg LeFevre, an assistant professor of environmental engineering and faculty research engineer for IIHR at the University of Iowa, studies water quality, wastewater, and toxic substances.

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LeFevre conducting a fish dissection. 

LeFevre, a principal investigator (PI) of the study, is researching what happens when pharmaceuticals enter our waterways. His research is funded through a National Competitive Grant under the USGS 104(g) Program. A goal of this program is to promote collaboration between the USGS and university scientists in research on significant national and regional water resources issues.

This working group consisted of representatives from the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). There were PIs, graduate students, and USGS scientists.

“We have a number of different things we are working on both in the lab and in the field to try and answer the questions comprehensively through multiple fields of expertise,” LeFevre says. “And out of this one grant, because there are so many things coming out of this, we hope that this field site will be the locus for a bunch of other research.”

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Fish dissection for lab testing.

Wastewater-derived contaminants of emerging concerns (CEC) have demonstrated harmful effects to aquatic organisms. LeFevre believes that there is a critical need to understand how the changing complex mixture composition of CECs relates to biological effects. This understanding is critical in order to better protect ecosystem health in freshwater resources and inform stakeholder decisions.

“Everything that happens on the land is ultimately very connected to what goes on and into the water,” says LeFevre. “What we want to do is to develop some kind of understanding of the exposure to fish as well as some of the biological facts that are going on there.”

They hope to see the effects on fish throughout different areas of the stream. They will study a control group that permanently remains at the lab, a different group released in cages in the waterway after being brought up in the lab, and native fish who have spent their whole lives in the natural stream.

The waterway they are putting fish in and pulling fish from comes from an upstream wastewater treatment facility LeFevre describes as, “one of the best in the state.”

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Preparing fish for dissection. 

The North Liberty Wastewater Treatment Plant, upstream of the tested waterway, has a membrane bioreactor, zero E. coli that comes out of the plant, and biological phosphorus and nitrogen removal. All of which is far beyond the permit requirements.

Rebecca Klaper, professor at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, is a co-principal investigator on the study has also been a key collaborator to LeFevre’s research.

Regarding the data, Klaper explains, “The detection part is fantastic and the fact that we’ve gotten so much better at measuring these things is great. We might detect hundreds of chemicals in the water, but they might have no effect at all. So, the other part is trying to figure out if we really need to be concerned about them.”

“Today has been really exciting,” PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of Iowa Hui Zhi says. Zhi is one of four Iowa Water Center (IWC) Graduate Student Research Competition recipients for 2019.

“I think we were overprepared, which is great,” she says. “Having everything ready to go makes our work more efficient. And we also have so many people from our labs working together, making everything work very smoothly.”

Part of Zhi’s research through the IWC grant encompasses the sorption and biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in Iowa’s water. “It’s important we understand what’s in our drinking water, what’s in the treated wastewater, and what’s in the streams and rivers,” Zhi says.

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Sarah Feehan is the communications specialist for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science from Iowa State University. In fall of 2019, Feehan will begin acquiring her JD from Drake Law School.

Bridging the Divide in Water Resource Management

Written by Hanna Bates, Program Coordinator for the Iowa Water Center

Regardless of who you are and what path you are on; we all make an impact on water. This belief was the overarching theme of the 74th Soil and Water Conservation Society International Annual Conference held July 28-31 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This city, at the confluence of three rivers and contains 446 bridges, is a town of connections that bridges one side of a river to another. This set the scene for the conference in which diverse ideas were brought together to represent our anthropogenic impact on water resources. Conference attendees included those from private industry, public institutions, and government agencies. The three days of presentations, symposia, and tours enabled attendees to debate ideas and address critical questions about the future of our soil and water resources.

Iowa water resource professionals were well represented on the agenda and covered a vast array of topics. These topics included outreach, education, and community engagement; conservation models, tools, and technologies; professional development; engaging the private sector; water resource assessment and management; and social sciences informing conservation.

On the third day of the conference, I attended a tour on how the City of Pittsburgh alongside several other organizations are restoring impacted landscapes within the city and in nearby rural areas. For several decades, the coal and natural gas extraction industries and steel mills had a negative impact on the surrounding landscape due to the establishment of mine drainage areas and dump areas for slag, a waste product from steel production. Tour stops showcased areas that are in the process of being restored.

 

One stop of the tour was the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, which is an outdoor garden that spans approximately 450 acres of land. Opened in 2015, this is a long-term program to reintroduce native plant species. During a one-year span in 2015, the garden staff planted 9,000 flowering bulbs and 1,500 saplings. Each year, thousands more are planted. The goal is not only to restore the landscape, but also to provide a place for outdoor education and enjoyment of nature. On the day we visited, approximately 40 acres of the 450 acres were rehabilitated and open for the public to visit.

Another stop on the tour was at Pittsburg’s Frick Park and the 9-Mile Run Watershed. This 6.5-square mile watershed flows through the park and carries on to a slag dump site that was in operation from 1922-1972. Restoration projects in collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh and the 9-Mile Run Watershed Association have improved the site to make it the beautiful walking trail and recreational area that it is today. The area is located near vulnerable communities in Pittsburgh, and so it was restored with the belief that everyone deserves access to nature because of the positive impacts it can have on health and well being.

The Soil and Water Conservation Society along with the Pennsylvania Chapter of SWCS did an excellent job fostering conversations among meeting attendees as well as highlighting the natural resource challenges and solutions in the Pittsburgh area. Next year the 2020 SWCS Conference will be celebrating its 75th year in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Save the date for July 26-29, 2020 so that you can be a part of the celebration!

Iowa Water Center Visit Up North

Post written by Melissa Miller, Associate Director for the Iowa Water Center

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One of the greatest benefits of being part of the National Institutes for Water Resources is the connection to the other 53 Water Resources Research Institutes across the country – including those in surrounding states. Last week, Iowa Water Center staff took a day trip up to the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota to visit the Minnesota Water Resources Center (MWRC) staff.

We had a full agenda for the day, well-planned by Iowa State University alum Adam Wilke, who serves as the MWRC Research and Outreach Coordinator.

After a quick tour of the campus with our colleagues MWRC Director Jeff Peterson and Associate Director Joel Larson, we visited with MWRC’s Ann Lewandowski and Matt Drewitz from the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources on the best outreach and communication methods for the Daily Erosion Project (coverage for the entire state of Minnesota coming very soon!).

Next, Leif Olmanson from UMN’s Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory and Ben Page from MWRC introduced us to remotely sensed water quality monitoring in Minnesota lakes with their tool, LakeBrowser.  This technology is helping Minnesotans keep an eye on water clarity, chlorophyll, suspended solids, and colored dissolved organic matter on all lakes in the state over 10 acres. LakeBrowser covers some lakes in Iowa and can be expanded outside the borders of Minnesota.

We enjoyed lunch with the entire MWRC crew. Afterward, we joined in a planning call for the University Council of Water Resources annual conference, to be held in Minneapolis June 9-11. The theme for the 2020 UCOWR Annual Conference is “Water. Place. People.” The call for special sessions is now open – this is a great conference for university researchers and students, and we encourage you to submit a session idea.

IMG_6100[1]To round out the day, we headed over to the banks of the Mississippi River to chat with Pat Nunnally from UMN’s River Life program. We talked about the history of the Mississippi and River Life’s interdisciplinary journal Open Rivers, which features fascinating pieces that explore topics on water, place, and community. We also got to witness Pat in action, as a mudslide on the banks that morning brought television news crews to the scene, wondering how and why these things occur (Pat makes an appearance around 1:35). Thankfully, we managed to avoid any cameos in the news story!

IMG_6098[1]We want to sincerely thank the entire UMN staff for their hospitality. We came away with actionable items to increase our collaboration between the two centers and throughout the region, as well as some great ideas we might borrow from UMN to incorporate here in Iowa and at IWC. We look forward to their visit to Iowa next spring!

 

 

 

 

Melissa headshot_0Melissa Miller is the associate director of the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Community and Public Health and MS degree in Community Development with an emphasis in Natural Resource Management, both from Iowa State University.

 

Albright Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Institute Research Grant Competition

Written by Sarah Feehan, Communications Specialist, Iowa Water Center

AMES, IOWA – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to enable graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Ellen Albright has been selected among three other graduate students from across Iowa. She and the other recipients will receive funding for a variety of proposed research.

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Ellen Albright, PhD Student at Iowa State University.

Albright’s proposed research focuses on internal phosphorus loading in shallow lakes, as well as management strategies to prevent and help mitigate harmful algal blooms. It is titled ‘Developing Methods to Measure Internal Phosphorus Loading in Iowa Lakes’.

“I’m interested in internal phosphorus loading, which is the release of phosphorus from lakebed sediments into the overlying water,” Albright says. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient that can cause harmful algal blooms in lakes. Phosphorus stored at the bottom of lakes in sediment can be re-released into the water due to wind disturbance or fish stirring up the sediment.

Associate Director of the IWC Melissa Miller says, “Water Resources Research Institutes like the Iowa Water Center were authorized by Congress in part to address emerging water resources concerns through research. Harmful algal blooms are a high-priority topic in the nation. Ms. Albright’s work will not only contribute to the body of knowledge on internal phosphorus loading, but will also contribute a new, scalable sampling method,” Miller says.

Albright says, “Internal phosphorus loading can maintain high nutrient levels in our lakes. And it’s not very well understood in the shallow lakes we have here in Iowa. It can also impact how effective watershed nutrient reduction strategies are at achieving water quality goals.”

Get to know Ellen Albright, PhD Student at Iowa State University

Albright grew up in a small town just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, called Cottage Grove. Her main area of research is limnology, or the study of inland waters such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

“My interest in limnology started during a summer undergrad position that I had with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked at a field station they run in northern Wisconsin called Trout Lake Station,” Albright says.

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Albright conducting field research.

She had a variety of positions there every summer of her undergraduate career. And while she was working there, she learned that she really enjoys research time and enjoys studying lakes.

“While I was there, I got excited about the process of collecting ecological data and knowing that data can help us make decisions and better manage freshwater resources. I think those are the experiences that really sparked the interests I have now,” Albright says.

Throughout and in between the field work days and lab work days, Albright is constantly working with other students, especially in the summertime.

Albright says, “I enjoy training our undergrad researchers for the different roles we have in our lab and encouraging them to pursue independent research projects. I find that mentoring is a really rewarding part of my job.”

In her free time, Albright enjoys getting outdoors. “It’s very relaxing for me. I like to go for walks, go birding, fishing, and get out on the water,” Albright says.


 For more information about this year’s recipients, please visit https://iawatercenter.wordpress.com/. To reference the general press release for all four recipients, please visit: http://www.water.iastate.edu/news/iowa-water-center-announces-2019-grant-recipients.

The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at https://www.water.iastate.edu/.


0Sarah Feehan is the communications specialist for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science from Iowa State University. In fall of 2019, Feehan will begin acquiring her JD from Drake Law School.

Zhi Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Institute Research Grant Competition

Written by Sarah Feehan, Communications Specialist

AMES, IOWA – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to enable graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Hui Zhi has been selected among three other graduate students from across Iowa. She and the other recipients will receive funding for a variety of proposed research.

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Hui Zhi, PhD candidate at the University of Iowa.

Zhi’s proposed research encompasses sorption and biodegradation of pharmaceuticals in Iowa’s water. It is titled ‘Quantifying Differential Sorption and Biodegradation of Pharmaceuticals in a Wastewater Effluent-dominated Stream in Iowa’.

Associate Director of the IWC Melissa Miller says, “Water Resources Research Institutes like the Iowa Water Center were authorized by Congress in part to address emerging water resources concerns through research. The fate and transport of pharmaceuticals in our water is of critical interest to both the state and region, and we look forward to sharing the results of Ms. Zhi’s work.”

“From this research, we’ll better understand the fate and transformation of pharmaceuticals in the surface water. It’s important we understand what’s in our drinking water, what’s in the treated wastewater, and what’s in the streams and rivers. And, how they change spatially and temporally,” Zhi says.

Get to Know Hui Zhi, PhD Candidate at the University of Iowa

Typically, Zhi wakes up around 6:30 A.M. and makes herself breakfast and a cup of black coffee. Once at her office, she checks emails and reads journal article updates.

One early morning in her office, Zhi received an email about the IWC’s grant competition and thought, “it would be a really great opportunity to apply for.” She spoke to her adviser about the competition and he encouraged her to write and submit a proposal.

“It caught my eye,” Zhi says of the grant competition email. Zhi’s research from this grant work will be a one-year study that employs both field and laboratory research approaches.

Zhi says, “I really enjoy working in the lab and look forward to getting the results.”

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Zhi conducting lab work at the University of Iowa.

Zhi grew up in China, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in an environmental science program at China Pharmaceutical University.

The environmental crisis in China influenced Zhi to continue school and to focus on environmental engineering. She decided to continue her studies here in the United States, where Zhi believes, “the best programs in the world for environmental engineering are at.”

She received her master’s degree at Cornell University and is now a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa. Her anticipated completion year is 2020.

With her research, Zhi hopes people will better understand the behaviors of pharmaceutical mixtures in the water and their associated ecological impacts.

She explains, “The results will be able to help the right people, whoever is responsible for our water policy regulations, set in place science-based water quality regulations for pharmaceuticals. Regulations not just for our drinking water, but also in the treated wastewater that is discharged into our environment. Hopefully then, we will have a cleaner water environment.”

Instead of just focusing solely on the quality of our drinking water, Zhi thinks knowing what’s going on in all our water systems, for example streams and rivers, is vital to a healthy environment.

Pharmaceuticals can have impacts on aquatic species, such as fish, living in the water. If pharmaceuticals are accumulating in fish and people are eating these fish, the accumulation of pharmaceuticals ends up in human bodies.

Therefore, not only are we drinking pharmaceuticals, but we are also eating fish that have been accumulating pharmaceuticals over time. “People need to know what’s happening in the streams nearby that they’re swimming in and also in the waters their fish are found because there are potential impacts on the human body that we don’t clearly know yet,” Zhi says.

To help prevent research burnout, Zhi enjoys exercising. “Whether it’s cardio, yoga, boxing, rock climbing, or swimming, I love it. All these different sports help relieve any pressure from research, and I have a lot of fun doing them,” Zhi says.


 For more information about this year’s recipients, please visit https://iawatercenter.wordpress.com/. To reference the general press release for all four recipients, please visit: http://www.water.iastate.edu/news/iowa-water-center-announces-2019-grant-recipients.

The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at https://www.water.iastate.edu/.


0Sarah Feehan is the communications specialist for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science from Iowa State University. In fall of 2019, Feehan will begin acquiring her JD from Drake Law School.

Leung Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Institute Research Grant Competition

Written by Sarah Feehan, Communications Specialist

AMES, IOWA – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to enable graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Tania Leung has been selected among three other graduate students from across Iowa. She and the other recipients will receive funding for a variety of proposed research.

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Tania Leung, PhD candidate at Iowa State University.

Leung’s proposed research encompasses harmful algal blooms and cyanobacteria in Iowa’s waters. It is titled ‘Determining the Effects of Co-Nutrient Availability on Harmful Algal Blooms Across Varying Lake Types’.

Associate Director of the IWC Melissa Miller says, “Water Resources Research Institutes like the Iowa Water Center were authorized by Congress in part to address emerging water resources concerns through research. Ms. Leung’s research investigates a question that water professionals in this region posed during a recent public discussion on harmful algal blooms.”

“I’m most looking forward to are the results of this research,” Leung says. “For example, do iron concentrations vary from lake to lake? And if so, why? Is it geologically impacted or not? And if these iron concentrations do vary from lake to lake, then the next question: Do these harmful algal blooms also vary in terms of how intense they are? And if they are very intense, do the toxins vary?”

Miller says, “This is an excellent example of the value of creating feedback loop between the research community with professionals and engaged citizens in order to rapidly respond to pressing issues.”

Get to Know Tania Leung, PhD Candidate at Iowa State University

Leung is from a small town in southern Florida about 5 or 6 hours north of Key West called Lauderhill. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Florida Atlantic University.

During her master’s, Leung discovered her passion for water quality and decided to pursue this interest with a PhD in geology and environmental sciences at Iowa State University (ISU).

“I always knew I wanted to do a PhD, but I just didn’t know where. So, I started my research by looking for professors who shared similar interests as me regarding water quality,” says Leung. She found what she was searching for.

Tania Leung and Research Work
Leung conducting field research.

“There was a professor at ISU who had a project that was looking into harmful algal blooms. She was trying to see if the iron content or concentrations in the lake water contribute to harmful algal blooms.”

Coming from Florida, Leung was familiar with widespread harmful algal blooms along the coast. However, she hadn’t heard of these blooms being inland until she came to ISU. She says this inland perspective in Iowa has given her, “new insight.”

Leung’s adviser, Elizabeth Swanner, saw on Twitter back in September a tweet about the IWC’s Graduate Student Research Competition. Swanner then ran the idea by Leung.

“Well I never thought a tweet of all things,” Leung says. “Normally I think we as graduate students look for agencies that are looking for grants that we can apply to, but this is interesting that my adviser saw something on Twitter. That was a fun and surprising moment when she told me that.”

One of Leung’s favorite hobbies is cooking. “I took up cooking during my master’s. I love trying new recipes and figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” Leung says.


For more information about this year’s recipients, please visit https://iawatercenter.wordpress.com/. To reference the general press release for all four recipients, please visit: http://www.water.iastate.edu/news/iowa-water-center-announces-2019-grant-recipients.

The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at https://www.water.iastate.edu/


0Sarah Feehan is the communications specialist for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science from Iowa State University. In fall of 2019, Feehan will begin acquiring her JD from Drake Law School.