Evaluating Old Mill Ponds

Project Title: Evaluating Old Mill Ponds: Can They Provide Clean Water and Sustainable Energy?

Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Antoine Aubeneau, Purdue University, Lyles School of Civil Engineering

Dates: March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Total Federal Funds:  Total Non-Federal Funds:

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Dr. Gary Lamberti

Taming the nitrogen cycle is an emergency. Excess fertilizer from crop production leaks to the network and is transported downstream to receiving water bodies, where eutrophication leads to periodic ecological and economical disasters. Given the broad timescales of travel times in watersheds, achieving a reduction in nitrate concentration in surface freshwater will require intervention not only on land, but also on the network. Understanding the amount of nitrogen processed in the slower environments during transport will be important to manage the nitrogen cycle. In Indiana and the rest of the corn producing Midwest, the direct cost of fertilizers is a significant part of production costs; recovering and reusing nitrogen could lead to significant increase in income. Finally, harvesting the energy from the flowing water could offset the costs of storing the water during high flows.

We propose to study nutrient budgets upstream and downstream of an old grist-mill pond to quantify the amount of nutrient processed and the potential for energy harvesting in a small agricultural drainage in Northern Indiana. We will measure a suite of water parameters (nitrate, phosphate, carbon, oxygen e.g.) as well as discharge during weekly site visits. We will also leave continuous monitoring devices between visits. Together these data will allow us to calculate nutrient budgets throughout the year as well as the amount of sustainable hydro-energy that could be harvested. We hypothesize that the benefits from the potential biomass and energy harvesting could offset the costs of improving water quality in agricultural watersheds.