UD researchers to tackle sediment, human behavior questions

UD researchers to tackle sediment, human behavior questionsTwo University of Delaware researchers have won support for projects to improve and protect water quality in the Delaware River watershed, part of $4 million in grant awards announced by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, which administers the funds.

In all, 10 research teams – including federal, state, private and university researchers – are part of the three-year effort.

The grants are funded by the Delaware Watershed Research Fund, established with the support of the William Penn Foundation, to inform and advance on-the-ground conservation work including efforts underway as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.

To date, the Philadelphia-based philanthropy has committed $60 million to 48 nonprofit organizations in the initiative, which are working together to reduce threats to water quality in eight carefully selected areas within the larger Delaware River watershed.

James Pizzuto, professor of geological sciences at UD, will lead a team of scientists that includes researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Stroud Water Research Center.

With an award of about $442,000, they will analyze the extensive sediment restoration efforts on the White Clay Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania, work that will guide future restoration efforts.

Excess sediment harms aquatic life and can harm the entire watershed, Pizzuto said, as it has harmed the Chesapeake Bay. He and his team have developed a new approach for measuring the long-term impact of restoration efforts and how long it takes to produce benefits downstream.

“If you’re doing spot restoration up the watershed, we don’t know how much impact that will have and we’re trying to figure out the timing,” he said. “It might take decades and people should know this before they spend money on restoration activities.”

Pizzuto and two UD colleagues in geological sciences are on the team – Michael O’Neal and Neil Sturchio – along with Diana Karwan, a former National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at UD now on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, and Melinda Daniels of the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, Pennsylvania.

Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment and director of UD’s Center for Experimental and Applied Economics, will work with Paul Ferraro, professor at Johns Hopkins University, to analyze consumer behavior and its effect on environmental quality of the watershed. Their grant is worth about $111,000.

Messer’s project, called the HomeVISE (Homeowner Value, Innovation, and Stewardship Enhancement) Project, looks at homeowners’ choices when it comes to nutrient management. Are they adopting new technologies to manage water and minimize runoff? What kinds of messages are most effective, and to whom?

“Dis-adoption is a big challenge for environmental issues,” Messer said. “New technology is nice, but a lot of people who have it don’t use it appropriately or dis-adopt it. They may buy a soaker hose, but then after trying it a few times stop using it.”

That work will explore what homeowners are doing, and will include an audit of those who purchase new technologies or plantings to see if they are still using them months later.

Among the other projects awarded are studies of wastewater and stormwater runoff, water quality criteria modeling, temperature models, forest protection policies, floodplains, the impact of development and environmental change, nitrogen and carbon cycling models, and stormwater control methods.

“We are excited about the positive impact this research is likely to have in advancing watershed protection across the Delaware River basin and beyond,” said Andrew Johnson, watershed protection program director at the William Penn Foundation. “Our region is fortunate to be home to many strong conservation organizations working strategically to protect and restore water quality in the Delaware River watershed, including the 48 involved in the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. The research grants announced by the academy will inform that work, and we hope make it even more strategic and effective.”

Article by Beth Miller

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