Public Radio’s ‘Science Friday’

National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” hosted by Ira Flatow, will be broadcasting from Iowa State University on Saturday, May 4, and will feature ISU researchers.

The first topic will be climate change. As climate change continues to have a larger effect on how agriculture works, how are the experts on the ground preparing for the future? Iowa State University faculty experts Dr. Arti Singh and Dr. Patrick Schnable will join other presenters to share how they see the future of agriculture, from using AI and robots to give farmers a better understanding of their crops in real-time and develop drought-resistance, to using environmentally sustainable farming techniques, like regenerative agriculture.

The live event at Stephens Auditorium begins at 6pm; doors open at 5pm

Iowa Water Center Announces Available Research Grants

Iowa Water Center Announces Available Research Grants

Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center Annual Competitive Grants Competition is open for faculty and graduate students at accredited institutions in the State of Iowa. This year, the Iowa Water Center is offering two funding opportunities: Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition and a Targeted Seed Grant Research Competition.

The Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition has funding of up to $5,000 for one-year projects for a maximum of three graduate students nearing completion of their program of study. This program allows for students to complete additional research objectives or products beyond the scope of their current water-related funded project. For this opportunity, proposals must address topics related to water resource management in Iowa. Iowa Water Center staff is available to assist students in the development of submissions.

The Targeted Seed Grant Research Competition is intended to address the most pressing water research needs in Iowa as determined by Iowa Water Center Advisory Board. The three focus areas for this opportunity are:

  • Water related hazards and society: exploration of the intersections of land/water use, and water hazards, climate change, or drought response. Research emphasizing social and environmental justice regarding these topics is preferred.
  • Exploration and advancement of our understanding of harmful algae blooms (HABs). Proposals are sought that focus on innovations in monitoring the occurrence of HABs and algal toxins, research on factors that result in algal toxin production, and improvements in near-real time modeling and forecasting of toxin-producing blooms.
  • Emerging contaminants: research on the fate, persistence, transport, and impacts of contaminants on water resources and ecosystem dynamics. Research can include social and/or economic assessment of the spread, detection, impacts, solutions, and management. Contaminants include per-and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, E. coli, and other physical, chemical, and biological contaminants.

Research proposals must follow RFP guidelines and can be submitted to the Iowa Water Center via email (send to All applicants must provide an intent to submit notice by Feb. 20, 5 p.m.

Proposals are due March 1, by 5 p.m. Late proposals will not be accepted. More information regarding this opportunity can be found at the Iowa Water Center website.

The Iowa Water Center: 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.


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


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


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.

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.”

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.”

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.


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


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.