The Indiana Water Resources Research Center annually funds small grants that focus on basic and applied research to solve water problems unique to Indiana. Current research projects include (click next to each project title to expand the information):


Principal Investigators: Dr. Greg Michalski, Purdue University, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

March 1, 2018 to March 1, 2019

Abstract: The proposed research will use a combination of laboratory experiments, field sampling, and community based water sampling to assess the sources of nutrients in the Wabash River watershed and how these nutrients are utilized by potentially harmful algae and denitrifying bacteria. The novelty of the research will be the use of multiple naturally occurring isotopes in nitrate and phosphate that can be used as tracers of N/P sources and as evidence of in-stream nutrient loss processes. The laboratory experiments will consist of controlled incubations of cyanobacteria and naturally occurring algae obtained from the Wabash River and ponds, ditches, and streams that funnel into the main river. They will be grown at different temperatures and variable nutrient loading and the isotope enrichment factors for 15N in nitrate and 17O, 18O in both nitrate and phosphate will be determined. The same enrichment factors will be determine for denitrification occurring in an agricultural field bioreactor and in incubation experiments using Wabash River sediments. Determining these isotope enrichment factors is important for understanding the isotopic composition of nitrate and phosphate in the Wabash. Current hypotheses suggest that the isotopic composition of nitrate (and phosphate) in a water body reflects a mixing of different N/P sources. We propose an alternative hypothesis: That N/P loss by algal uptake and denitrification impose their own isotope signal and this can result in improper source apportionment using the existing mixing paradigm. Our preliminary data suggests that high 15N and 18O values detected in the Wabash are not evidence of combination of sewage/manure and atmospheric nitrate sources, rather may be N loss by eutrophication and/or HABs. We further hypothesize that similar changes in the 18O of phosphate would be manifest during P uptake by algae. Thus, isotopes maybe useful in understanding nutrient utilization during HAB and eutrophication events.


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Jennifer C. Latimer, Indiana State University, Department of Earth
and Environmental Systems

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: This project will address the uptake and biomagnification of lead in aquatic systems in Indiana by considering the case of Indiana River Otters, a sentinel species for human health. This project will investigate how lead moves through the aquatic environments of Indiana. River otter and fish tissues, made available by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and otter feces will be evaluated to understand lead biogeochemical cycling in southwestern Indiana. Otter liver tissue, which provides insight into short-term exposure, and otter femurs and tibias, which provide insight into long term exposure, will be evaluated for heavy metals, including lead. Otter feces will be evaluated to assess lead excretion, while fish tissues will be evaluated to ascertain how much lead is present in otter diets in the late fall and winter when their diet consists almost exclusively of fish. While the Indiana otter population is considered stable enough for a limited trapping season, the otters exposure to and storage of pollutants, like lead, may be an indication of declining aquatic ecosystem health and a harbinger of human health impacts and exposure to pollutants through the consumption of fish. Many Indiana waterways have fish consumption advisories due to the presence of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, but not as a result of lead in surface waters or fish tissues. This research will contribute to the professional development of at least three students (one Ph.D., one MS, and one undergraduate student), and the results will be used as the basis for a future National Science Foundation proposal.


Principal Investigators: Shawn Naylor, Indiana University, Center for Geospatial Data Analysis and Indiana Geological and Water Survey

June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020

Abstract: Groundwater resource assessments in glaciated regions require buried bedrock elevation data to provide information related to aquifer geometry and to determine water-resource availability. In northern Indiana such assessments are needed because expanded irrigation is increasing groundwater withdrawals in the region. Furthermore, naturally occurring contaminants have become an emerging issue, based on recent groundwater sampling data. An improved understanding of bedrock valley morphology is also warranted by these concerns because rockwater interactions at the sediment/bedrock interface often control the geochemical characteristics of groundwater, highlighting the need to better constrain the hydrogeologic conditions at the base of glacial aquifers.At this juncture, there is limited data control for interpolating bedrock topography in northern Indiana. The work proposed herein employs newly developed passive seismic geophysical techniques to establish additional bedrock elevation data and support higher-resolution maps of buried valleys that lie below the St. Joseph Aquifer System in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties. The data will be collected by an Indiana University student intern who will use geostatistical techniques to interpolate a high-resolution bedrock elevation model for the area and create a digital database of field data and derivative products. The research will improve our hydrogeologic understanding of the constraints on the St. Joseph Aquifer System and develop methods that can be used in statewide water-resource assessments.


Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Laura Bowling, Purdue University, Department of Agronomy

March 2017 – February 2018

Abstract: Water resources are sources of water that are of sufficient quality to meet human needs, when and where they are needed. Therefore, they reflect both water supply – the useable sources of surface and groundwater, as well as demand, where and when is water being extracted for what purpose. Sustainable use of water resources therefore requires the balanced allocation of renewable natural resources to people, farms and ecosystems. Although many Federal (e.g. USGS, NOAA, USCOE) and state agencies (IDNR, IDEM) have their own publicly-available databases of water quantity, individual users need to know where to look to piece together an overall summary of water availability for the entire state of Indiana. The proposed work will address this gap by developing a website to summarize the condition of Indiana Water Resources over the previous water year in terms of reservoir storage, groundwater storage, observed streamflow, water quality and water withdrawals, based on synthesis of publicly-available data from the USGS, IDNR, and IDEM. These data sources will be supplemented with model simulations and hydrologic forecasts to provide a look forward at forecasted water levels and demand from agricultural and no-agricultural sectors over the coming year in order to inform the public on the current state of Indiana’s water resources.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Venkatesh Merwade, Purdue University, Lyles School of Civil Engineering

June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020

Abstract: Indiana experiences major floods in different parts of the state almost every year from both excessive rain and rapid snowmelt. From February to April 2018, more than 20 counties in Indiana experienced extreme flooding, and were declared disaster areas by the Governor’s office. Information related to rainfall and streamflow, two pieces of information critical for predicting floods, is not available for many areas in the state. Additionally, most flood inundation maps, created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are static maps that cannot tell much about potential flood inundation during high storm events. Thus there is a critical need to create dynamic flood inundation information for most areas in Indiana during high storm events. To address this need, this proposal aims to create a hyper-resolution hydrologic model to provide street level flood information and inundation for all the areas within the Wabash River Basin. By leveraging past and other ongoing modeling efforts in Minnesota and Texas, this proposal will create a hydrologic model that will provide hydrologic fluxes for any area in the Wabash River Basin, which covers around 65% of the State of Indiana. As a prototype, a sub-set of this model will be executed in near real-time for the city of Indianapolis by using meteorological forecasts from the Ohio River Forecast Center and the National Water Model. Model results will be disseminated through WaterHUB for use by flood managers, researchers and other decision makers. We will also work with Indiana Silver Jackets and other agencies in Indiana to operationalize this modeling system for long-term sustainability beyond the project duration. This project will support, and provide training to one PhD student in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Bangshuai Han, Ball State University, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management

June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020

Abstract: It is projected that Indiana’s warming rate is accelerating, with an increase of precipitation in winter and spring. Indiana will experience drier and warmer crop growing seasons and wetter winters in the future. These conditions lead to various water management challenges in Indiana, including adaptation to more flooding and droughts and potentially a shift from rainfed agriculture to irrigation agriculture. There is a critical need for scientists to help Indiana residents better adapt to future climate change, e.g., by controlling extreme flow events (including high and low flows) that will help mitigate flooding and droughts.
Wetlands are known to buffer streamflow by intercepting surface and sub-surface flows, thereby helping mitigate extreme flooding and droughts. Current restoration decisions usually focus on individual wetland projects and local site conditions, thus missing the aggregated effects of hydrologically connected wetlands at the watershed scale. This study will: 1) develop a modeling approach to simulate wetland restoration effects to streamflow under future climate change scenarios, and 2) produce knowledge and benchmark datasets that will be quickly and broadly disseminated. Deliverables from the work will include a cluster of watershed-scale datasets for six proposed climate change and wetland restoration scenarios. Under each scenario, the research will project future climate change patterns, future streamflow regimes shift, and the potential benefits of wetland restoration to buffering streamflow, thus reducing risks of flooding and droughts. This study will advance understanding of wetland functions at the watershed scale and assist elected officials at the state and local levels, decision makers, and local communities to better adapt to future climate change when making restoration plans to support soil and water conservation and healthy wetlands.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Gary A. Lamberti, University of Notre Dame, Department of Biological Sciences

March 2017-February 2018

Abstract: Water quality degradation resulting from human activities represents a threat to environmental and human health. Contaminants of emerging concern, including microplastics (plastic particles <5 mm in size), are understudied in flowing waters of the Midwestern USA including in Indiana. Microplastics can enter rivers and streams through a variety of pathways (e.g., wastewater effluent, breakdown of larger plastic debris, atmospheric deposition) and can negatively impact aquatic organisms through both direct consumption with food and indirect contamination from sorbed toxins. Here we propose to quantify the concentration and types (e.g., microbeads, fibers, fragments) of microplastics found in Indiana watersheds representing a gradient of land use (i.e., agricultural, urban, or forested). While we expect to find microplastics at all sites, we hypothesize that watersheds dominated by modified land use types (i.e., agricultural and urban) will have higher concentrations of microplastics as a result of increased human influence. Based on our previous work quantifying microplastics in the St. Joseph River watershed of Indiana, we have developed sampling techniques that allow us to determine both the abundance and the type of microplastics. Identifying the sources and types of microplastics in Indiana waters will provide valuable information for our state and is critical for the development of management actions for this emerging contaminant.

Video: Water-borne microplastics: Tiny Plastics, Big Problem?


Principal Investigator: Dr. Zhi (George) Zhou, Purdue University, School of Civil Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering

March 2017-February 2018

Abstract: Harmful algal blooms (HAB) are overgrowth of algae that could foul up surface waters, consume oxygen in the water, and produce harmful toxins to humans and animals. HABs have been reported as a major environmental problem in all 50 states of the United States. Many studies have been done on the factors that can affect the development of HABs, such as sunlight, temperature, low turbulence, and nutrient sources, but only limited studies have been down to evaluate the effects of viruses on the development of HABs, in spite that viruses are the most abundant biological entities in aquatic systems and some studies suggest that viruses are driving the life-and-death dynamics of algal blooms. The overall goal of this project is to evaluate the effects of viruses on the development of harmful algal blooms. The specific research objectives are to: 1) develop qPCR primers to quickly and accurately quantify virus abundance; 2) evaluate the growth and decay of algal cells under the exposure of various nutrient loading; and 3) elucidate the mechanisms of virus infection on the decay of algal cells. Upon the successful completion of this project, we expect to have elucidated the mechanism of the development algal cells under the exposure of difference levels of nutrients and gained in-depth knowledge on the effects of viruses that contribute to the development of algal blooms. The improved fundamental understanding of effects of viruses on microbial structure and functions of algae are expected to have significant potentials to be applied to develop control strategies for HABs, which is still one of the most costly and challenging environmental problems in the world.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Lisa R. Welp, Assistant Professor, Purdue University, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

March 1, 2018 – February 28, 2019

Abstract: Nutrient runoff from agricultural lands leads to Harmful Algae Blooms and eutrophication in freshwater ecosystems including the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented over the last few decades aim to reduce nutrient transport to streams and rivers. Evaluations of their effectiveness have found mixed results in reducing nutrient concentrations. This could indicate that BMPs are ineffective in certain areas, or simply that the residence time of water and nutrients in the watersheds are long and the effect of BMPs won’t be seen for decades. Watershed discharge is a combination of recent precipitation, soil water on the order of a year old, and decades-to-centuries old ground water, and the proportions vary with hydrology and land management. We aim to investigate the variability in residence times of local watersheds using stable isotope tracers and radon measurements and examine the relationships with nutrient concentration variability. This work will leverage 4 years of existing water stable isotope data and 8 years of nutrient concentrations from citizen scientist collections of streams during Wabash Sampling Blitz organized by the non-profit Wabash River Enhancement Corporation (WREC). Sampling occurs in the spring and fall under varying weather conditions. Stable water isotope time series have been used extensively for hydrograph partitioning and residence time calculations, but interpreting twice-yearly sampling of highly variable stream waters presents a challenge. We hypothesize that isotope variability in individual watersheds is correlated with residence times resulting in a spectrum of nutrient dynamics within the same land classification. Additionally, we will monitor a subset of watersheds for high-resolution variability (~biweekly) to verify results from the ‘snapshot’ Blitz method. This study will not directly test BMP effectiveness, but will provide a new context to examine the role of water age on nutrient dynamics.


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

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: 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.


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Jessica L. Ward, Ball State University, Department of Biology

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: Microplastics (MPs) are globally ubiquitous in aquatic environments and have become a critical environmental issue in recent years due to their adverse impacts on the physiology, reproduction, and survival of aquatic biota. However, exposure to MPs also has potential to induce sub-lethal behavioral changes that can affect individual fitness. For example, many plastics additives introduced during the manufacture of MPs are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that mimic the action of natural hormones and alter sexual and competitive behavior and impair mating success in fish. Emerging evidence also suggests that such chemicals could be leached into the bodies of aquatic organisms after ingestion. More importantly, EDCs and other aquatic contaminants may also adhere to MPs in the environment, which can then serve as transport vectors for these compounds. To date, no prior research has investigated the independent or facilitatory effects of microplastics and associated contaminants on the reproductive behavior of fish. The goal of this research is to evaluate the significance of MPs in the environment for fish populations and aquatic communities. The central hypothesis of the project is that exposure to MPs in urban- impacted freshwater systems alters intraspecific reproductive interactions and reduces the mating success of fish. To test this hypothesis, this project will evaluate the biological effects of virgin MP particles, and those exposed in an urban-impacted river system, on dominance, territorial acquisition, courtship, and mating success in a freshwater fish, Pimephales promelas. The results will fill critical gaps in knowledge regarding the direct and indirect (vector-borne) effects of MPs on the behavior of aquatic vertebrates and provide new information on the effects of MPs in freshwater systems. In addition, this research will provide training for graduate and undergraduate students in research, data analysis, and peer-reviewed written and oral dissemination of scientific information.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Jessica L. Ward, Assistant Professor, Ball State University, Department of Biology

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Jennifer C. Latimer, Indiana State University, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems

March 1, 2018 – February 28, 2019

Abstract: Cyanobacteria are prevalent blue-green algae that impact Midwestern freshwater systems, important environmental and economic resources. Emerging evidence suggests that exposure to neurotoxic compounds can induce sub-lethal behavioral and central nervous system (CNS) changes that have potential to affect individual fitness. Because behaviors are regulated though the CNS and proper neuronal function is essential to organismal responses to relevant ecological stimuli (e.g., predators, prey, or abiotic environmental cues), neurodevelopmental disturbances could (i) reduce larval recruitment to adult stocks, resulting in declines in native population densities and altered community function, and/or (ii) accelerate the rate of transfer through the food chain through increased predation risk. The long-term goal of this research is to evaluate the significance of emerging algal neurotoxins for fish populations and aquatic communities. As a first step toward this goal, this project will use single-chemical, lab-controlled exposures to quantify the effects of neurodegenerative cyanotoxins on the sensorimotor performance of fish at two life stages; early development and maturity. Specifically, this research will test the central hypothesis that chronic, low-dose exposure to neurodegenerative cyanotoxins could alter the outcomes of species interactions through deterioration in motor function. Despite reports of impaired motor function in humans linked to the consumption of contaminated fish, the effects of these compounds on the fish themselves is largely unknown. Given this deficit, this research will collect data on the swimming performance of fish during prey-tracking and escape from predators. The results will fill critical gaps in knowledge regarding the short- and long-term effects of sub-lethal exposure to algal neurotoxins on fish and provide direct insight into the factors affecting routes of human exposure and health risks. In addition, this research will provide training for graduate and undergraduate students in research, data analysis, and peer-reviewed written and oral dissemination of scientific information.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Jeffery R. Stone, Indiana State University, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Jennifer C. Latimer, Indiana State University, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems

March 2017-February 2018

Abstract: Through a combination of progressive industrialization, agriculture, and development throughout the Wabash Valley over the past century, the Wabash River has experienced a history of substantial anthropogenic impact. Rivers are transient systems that channelize water, solutes, organisms, sediments and pollutants downstream, which allow human-driven changes to stream environments, and adjacent watersheds, to have far-reaching consequences. Intermittent monitoring of most ecosystems results in inadequate models for determining total annual nutrient fluxes, seasonal patterns in nutrient concentration, and aquatic community dynamics in most rivers. Because most sediments are carried downstream, long-term environmental perspectives for most river systems don’t exist. Here we propose research to explore the impact of human modification of the aquatic environment of the Wabash River through a combination of modern water monitoring and short sediment records collected from lakes adjacent to the river that undergo periodic flooding. Our proposed research includes weekly geochemical and diatom community analyses of the seasonal patterns in the river, both upstream and downstream of Terre Haute, Indiana. An identical analysis is also proposed for adjacent seasonally-flooded lake sediments to provide a long-term environmental context for the modern ecosystem, using sediment geochemistry and fossil diatom assemblage changes. Our research should provide data about the seasonality of agriculturally-driven nutrient fluxes that will inform local and state water management policies and may help target remediation efforts and data regarding the timing of potential invasive species that may have been introduced by human activities in the Wabash River.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Sara K. McMillan, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Venkatesh Merwade, Purdue University, Lyles School of Civil Engineering

March 2016-February 2017

Abstract: Floodplains occupy a small fraction of the total landscape, yet they retain a disproportionate amount of nutrients and sediment. During high flow events, riverine water overtops the channel banks, flowpaths widen causing velocities to slow and retention times to increase, which are critical to sediment and nutrient trapping. Rapidly changing flow conditions directly impact the spatial extent of inundation as well as the magnitude and direction of flow velocities. High resolution of local controls (e.g., topography, vegetation and groundwater flow) are required to accurately predict these changes. Further, in the areas of sustained wetness and high inputs of organic matter, nutrient transformations are maximized. While nitrogen removal via microbial processes is greatest under these conditions, the mechanisms controlling phosphorus removal are highly variable and poorly understood. Floodplain restoration and breaching of levees to re-establish natural flood pulsing is a strategy that shows great promise. In fact, the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana has restored nearly 30,000 acres of riverine floodplains in the Wabash River Basin to improve water quality and other ecosystem functions. However, characterization and prediction of the environmental factors driving successful restoration is needed to find optimal locations that achieve the greatest impact per dollar invested. Therefore, our goal is to develop a robust predictive tool to quantify riverfloodplain connectivity and its impact on sediment and nutrient retention at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. We will build a 2-dimensional hydrodynamic model of the system and measure rates of nitrogen and phosphorus transformations in floodplain sediments. We will scale results temporally and spatially to estimate the net impact of floodplain processes on nutrient retention in the Wabash River Basin. Collectively, this will build the foundation for
an integrated and interdisciplinary analysis of the complex environmental controls on nutrient retention in river-floodplain ecosystems.


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Jingqiu Chen, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural &
Biological Engineering

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Bernard A. Engel, Purdue University, Associate Dean and
Director for Agricultural Research and Graduate Education, and Department of Agricultural and
Biological Engineering; Dr. Margaret W. Gitau, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural and
Biological Engineering

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: Combined sewer overflows (CSO) are considered as threats to human health and the environment. Untreated wastewater and stormwater released by CSO into surface waters is typical in many urban areas in Indiana, which poses a strong need for wastewater improvements in the state of Indiana. Green infrastructure (GI) practices are on-site stormwater management approaches that increase infiltration and storage, delay runoff peaks, reduce runoff rates and volumes, and control the movement of pollutants. Computer-based hydrological models can perform temporal and spatial simulations of the effects of hydrologic processes and management activities on hydrology and water quality. The Long-Term Hydrologic Impact Assessment (L-THIA) model is a user-oriented tool that requires only data on hydrologic soil groups, land use, and long-term precipitation (typically 30 years or more) to estimate surface runoff changes. The L-THIA-Low Impact Development (L-THIA-LID) model integrates GI practices into a L-THIA model and has been successfully used to assess the impacts of GI practices on surface hydrology and water quality. Prior study by the investigators regarding the evaluation of the effectiveness of GI practices on improving hydrology and water quality and their associated costs provided valuable information for decision makers such as urban planners, watershed managers, and city sanitary managers when creating development/re- development strategies. This proposal outlined an optimization work that would facilitate achieving optimal benefits considering budget and environmental objectives. The optimization outcomes of this proposed work on GI practices selection and placement would be useful for urban watershed to attain runoff and water quality reduction goals, which is also increasingly needed by many urban areas in Indiana.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Brady S. Hardiman and Mayra I. Rodriquez-Gonzalez, Purdue University, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources

June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020

Abstract: Accessibility of ecosystem services is the potential to reach and benefit from the goods and services humans obtain from nature. Accessibility is not well understood due to the complex factors influencing dynamic linkages between service provisioning and consumption. To enable a more robust characterization of accessibility, we propose to study a subset of well-understood services: the hydrologic ecosystem services. Hydrologic services, like flooding and erosion control, result from the influence of terrestrial ecosystem processes on hydrologic systems. Vegetation losses can impair the supply of these services, impacting the health and wellbeing of local communities. Urban communities like those in Northwestern Indiana, part of the third largest metropolitan region in the country, are especially vulnerable to losses of hydrologic services provided by urban vegetation. Assessment of service provisioning and consumption in these communities is incomplete, particularly the social dimensions of accessibility. We propose to address this need using a mixed methods approach to assessing accessibility: combining findings from an ongoing spatial study looking at service distribution in the Chicago region (including three Northwestern Indiana counties) with survey results on community feedbacks and hydrologic service accessibility in Northwestern Indiana. Doing so will improve characterization of accessibility and provisioning-consumption dynamics in the area. The dissemination of findings (through an online platform) will help local land managers and policy makers identify and prioritize management practices that enhance the provisioning and consumption of hydrologic ecosystem services and, thus, community health and wellbeing.


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Landon Yoder, Dr. Mallory Barnes, and Dr. Adam Ward, Indiana
University, O’Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: Despite substantial investment in on-farm conservation, water quality impairment remains a persistent and complex problem. One promising development has been the increase in cover crop adoption nationally and within Indiana. However, we know very little about whether cover crop adoption is occurring where it will be most effective to improve water quality. Existing data on cover crop adoption are primarily available at the county level, which does not provide spatially relevant information to inform environmental outcomes at watershed scales. Remote sensing can help to address this gap by providing large-scale, longitudinal data on where cover crops are located. To date, remote sensing has been used infrequently to assess watershed-scale implementation of conservation practices, focusing instead on improving vegetation indices. While cover crop adoption continues to increase, adoption research has shown that farmers face a range of barriers that may lead to variable use or discontinued adoption. This variability means that watershed-scale analysis is needed to understand the large-scale and long-term effects that cover crops have had on water quality and what this portends for future adoption trends. Our proposed research combines remote sensing, hydrological modeling, and spatial and temporal statistical analysis to examine statewide trends on the extent and location of cover crops and their effect on water quality outcomes from 2000-2019. The proposed research would generate pixel-level raster data with a range of normalized difference vegetation index values to capture cover crop locations. Hot spot and monotonic trend statistical analysis would be used to identify where cover crops are clustered geographically and the continuity of cover crops over time. Vegetation index values would inform Agro-IBIS modeling of the agro-ecosystem to show the effect of cover crops on water quality along stream networks across Indiana.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Pierre-André Jacinthe, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, Department of Earth Sciences

March 2016-February 2017

Abstract: The impact of nutrients exported from croplands on water quality can be minimized if, instead of being directly discharged directly into nearby streams, agricultural runoff and subsurface tile drainage can be channeled to temporary detention systems such as wetlands where bio-transformation of nutrients can occur. However, this approach could pose operational challenges. First, it could interfere with farming activities if wet soil conditions persist in adjacent crop fields. Thus, wetland operators need to strike a balance between field accessibility and increased system efficiency achievable with longer hydraulic residence time (HRT). Second, removal of NO3– and SRP – the pollutants most commonly present agricultural discharge often requires different redox conditions, suggesting that complete treatment can be accomplished in wetlands with multiple water-flow paths. Information is also lacking regarding the impact of treatment wetlands on air quality, specifically emission of greenhouse gases (GHG; N2O; CH4) into the atmosphere. Thus, the objectives of the proposed studies are to: (i) examine how HRT and water flow paths affect the performance of the constructed wetland, (ii) identify biogeochemical processes controlling nutrient transformation, and (iii) determine if constructed are potentially significant sources of N2O and CH4 emission in agricultural landscapes. The proposed study will be conducted at a constructed wetland (4-yr old) that comprises a surface and a subsurface flow cells. The wetland design also allows experimental adjustments of HRT and flow path (surface vs subsurface), thus making it possible to assess the impact of these parameters on system performance. The wetland is located downslope from a corn/soybean agricultural field that is actively monitored as part of a multi-agency edge-of-field effort. Significant synergies are expected between these two projects. Results of this study will have implications for the design, operations and acceptability of treatment wetlands in agricultural landscapes of the US Midwest.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Hye-Ji Kim, Assistant Professor, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture

March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019

Abstract: Elevated nutrient loads from agricultural production sites have been identified as a major contributor to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrient loads from greenhouse and nursery facilities are often overlooked or not sufficiently attended to, although they can play a substantial role in HABs due to the generation of significant amounts of wastewater enriched with high concentrations of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), the environmental pollutants associated with HABs. Greenhouse and nursery producers are challenged to meet the strong demand for sustainably and environmentally-friendly management practices. Phosphorus removal structures have proven to be effective in removing P and other nutrients in wastewater, particularly controlling nonpoint source pollution resulted from animal farms. With a specific design and characteristics suitable for greenhouse and nursery facilities, the structure has a great potential to effectively remove nutrients in the wastewater that are uniquely high in P at ranges from 30 to 300 ppm. During this pilot study, P sorbing materials will be tested for their affinity to P in greenhouse wastewater. Lab experiments will be conducted to generate data, which will be used to develop a predictive model to aid in the development of P removal structure suitable to process greenhouse wastewater with unique chemical properties. The study will be coupled with a testing in the greenhouse with a scaled-up size P removal structure. P removal efficiency along the seasonal variations in capturing P will be determined during the greenhouse testing. This research is significant because it addresses mitigation strategy for nutrient load to the Wabash River Watershed, reducing the prevalence of harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, improving water quality, and reducing the risk to human health.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Tomas Höök, Purdue University, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Timothy D. Malinich, Purdue University, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources

March 2016-February 2017

Abstract: Contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are typically quantified as measures of central tendency, i.e. averaged across all sampled fish of the same species within the same body of water. More recent studies suggest that individuals within a population do not all exhibit the same feeding and habitat residence patterns, therefore have varying risks to contaminant exposure and accumulation. If popular sport fish such as yellow perch, Perca flavescens, or black crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus, exhibit diet plasticity and specialize for pelagic or benthic habitats, then some groups of fish may pose a greater risk to consumers. Specifically, we hypothesize that diet plasticity and specialization in fish populations could lead to a bi-modal distribution of contaminant loads. Given that different contaminant exposure is likely to manifest through differential foraging strategies and habitat use, we will collect fish of each species within 3 different lakes in Northern Indiana to evaluate potential for relationships between the mercury and PCB loads of individual fish and their diet/habitat specialization. Understanding this relationship and the level of variation of contaminant loads within individual lakes could help federal and state agencies make informed decisions on fish consumption advisories.


Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Kevin H. Wyatt, Ball State University, Department of Biology

March 2016-February 2017

Abstract: The proposed study will assess the effect of temperature on the production and release of microcystin by toxin-producing cyanobacteria to better understand environmental controls on toxin release in eutrophic freshwater ecosystems. This research is significant given the increasing prevalence of harmful algal blooms within the Wabash River Watershed and their influence on water quality and human health. During the proposed study, toxin producing cyanobacteria will be grown at temperatures ranging from 5-30°C (5°C increments) to determine if there is a temperature threshold for productivity and toxin release during laboratory incubation experiments. Laboratory experiments will be coupled with a field survey of temporal variation in cyanotoxin prevalence and concentration in lakes and streams within the Wabash River Watershed. Toxin release among experimental temperature treatments will be related to variation in toxin concentrations along the seasonal temperature gradient captured during the field survey. These data will be used to develop a predictive model that will aid in the development of water quality management strategies to reduce harmful algal blooms and public-health risk.


Principal Investigators: Dr. Nathan Bosch, Director, Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams, Grace College

March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019

Abstract: The Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams at Grace College has been researching local lakes and streams in Kosciusko County, Indiana for 10 years and is at a critical point of expansion. More sophisticated technologies will allow the Lilly Center to provide higher frequencies of increasingly accurate data related to stream flow, nutrient transport, and overall water quality. The surrounding community, whose economy and well-being are significantly dependent on the recreational benefits of the lakes and streams, has an interest in the success of the Lilly Center’s research endeavors. In order to build upon the previous years’ historical data that has been collected, a new continuous stream flow monitor will act as a pilot to test this technology to automate part of the data collection already being conducted. Adding this technology to corresponding water sample analyses will build even more consistent repositories of information to inspire appropriate conservation techniques and educate the public.


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Pierre-André Jacinthe, Indiana University Purdue University
Indianapolis, Department of Earth Sciences

March 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021

Abstract: The water quality impact of phosphorus (P) exported from croplands in the US Midwest is well documented. Monitoring efforts have generally focused on the inorganic P (P i ) fractions, a preference largely dictated by the assumption that P i is immediately available to algae. However, in some settings, the amount of organic P (P o ) loss can be significant, and may represent another P source that can sustain algal growth in receiving water bodies. At the present, the bioavailability of P o is largely unknown.

Our monitoring activities (2015-2019) at two Central Indiana agricultural watersheds have shown that P o was the dominant form of P exported, ranging between 63 and 92% of total P load. In light of these observations, we investigated the bioavailability of P o in drainage waters, and examined the effect of hydrologic flow path (surface runoff vs subsurface tile discharge) and season on the biochemical attributes of P o . The pool of bioavailable P was determined using the filter strip method (retention of P i + P o fractions available to algae on FeO-impregnated filters). Enzyme assays were conducted to quantify the enzymatically-hydrolysable fractions of P o or EHP (monester, diester, phytate) in drainage waters. Initial results have shown that EHP concentration was generally higher in the summer, and consistently higher (2-fold) in tile waters than in surface runoff. We plan to: (i) continue these measurements through summer 2020 to assess annual variability, and (ii) conduct additional analysis using NMR spectroscopy to gain further insight into the speciation and dynamics of P o in agricultural waters. Overall, these initial results indicate that a sizable portion of the dissolved P o pool, once presumed to be not bioavailable, can in fact be hydrolyzed and converted to P i , fueling algal growth.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Melissa Berke, University of Notre Dame, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020

Abstract: Ecosystem disturbances in the Laurentian Great Lakes threaten the aquatic food web and water quality. Freshwater aquatic communities of Lake Michigan are faced with a wide array of environmental stressors that are likely in increase in the coming century, including invasive species, nutrient loading, and climate change. The numbers of species, community structure, and range of organisms will be altered as water quality, temperature, clarity, seasonal and annual water availability, and nutrient loading all differ from present conditions. However, significant uncertainty remains in how aquatic communities are impacted by disturbance over longer periods of time and how recovery of these communities progresses. Historical trends reconstructed from sediments can inform our management strategies as we learn of aquatic ecosystem response to disturbance and shifting community dynamics associated with recovery. Sediment reconstructions are necessary to examine processes operating over longer periods of time than can be observed, and can help constrain ecosystem behavior with overlapping disturbances. Here we propose to use organic biomarkers preserved in the sediments of Lake Michigan to reconstruct aquatic communities, water temperature, and hydroclimate.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Hye-Ji Kim, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture

March 2016-February 2017

Abstract: Population increases and dietary pattern shifts are placing significant new demands on food production systems, imposing considerable pressure on agricultural resources. Aquaculture provides 50% of all fish consumed worldwide, and it is estimated to account for 62% of the world’s fish supply for human consumption by 2030 (FAO, 2014). However, aquaculture produces huge volumes of wastewater containing nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), considered to be environmental pollutants, leading to eutrophication of surface water and contamination of groundwater. Recent changes to federal regulatory requirements (US EPA, 2004) have placed compliance pressure on the aquaculture industry, and therefore, its future expansion depends on effective management of aquaculture wastewater effluents. Aquaponics is a highly integrated system simultaneously producing two cash crops, fresh fish and plant crops, in a recirculating ecosystem by converting aquaculture wastewater into plant nutrients for crop prodcution. Our objective is to critically explore utilizing aquaculture wastewaters as sustainable water and mineral nutrient sources for food crop production, while minimizing environmental impacts. We will grow vegetable crops with different morphological characteristics and quantify N and P removal by evaluating their conversion efficiency of environmental pollutants into valuable nutrient resources for biomass production. We will also provide scientific evidence to help develop stratgies for economically and environmentally viable food-production systems through critical mass-balance studies using different combinations of crops. The findings will also help aid in developing guidelines for aquaponic design, operation, and management in Indiana and the U.S. as well as other parts of the world. Upon successful completion of this proposed project, it is expected that the socioeconomic status of US farmers and the aquaculture industry can be improved, resulting from reduced dependence on fish import. It will also significantly increase the sustainability of Indiana crop-production systems, while protecting its fragile environment.


Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Mike Sellers, Indiana University, The Media School

March 2017-February 2018

Abstract: Public understanding of the water system is vital in dealing with the myriad of water challenges facing the world today. A lack of deep systems understanding of how water needs to be treated to be delivered to the home and what happens to the water once it leaves the home can pose severe sustainability and adaptation challenges. Neglecting natural water resources can lead to environmental, socio-political, and economic concerns. Prior research conducted by our lab had Indiana University student participants (N = 578) draw how water reaches the tap in an average home in the U.S. and is then returned to the natural environment. We also conducted an expert elicitation (N = 15) to create a simplified correct diagram to code each student drawing. Results show major gaps in understanding: where 56% of the participants did not draw a water treatment plant, 71% did not draw a wastewater treatment plant, and 1 in 5 participants had untreated water returning to the natural environment. For the majority of non-environmental students, the water system stops at the home. Given this prior research, we are now working on an interactive and immersive online video game to teach players about the water system. Our game, called WaterWorks, simulates a localized region where the player is responsible for building and maintaining a water system. The goal of this project is to test whether game play can improve systems understanding and how players understand the risks associated with water quality, quantity, and infrastructure. Lastly, we aim to test whether increased understanding of water related risks leads to fostering water conservation.

Online Game: WaterWorks

The U.S. Geological Survey, in partnership with the National Institutes for Water Resources funds projects focusing on water problems and issues on a regional or interstate scale through their National Competitive Grants. Investigators in Indiana apply for these grants through the Indiana Water Resources Research Center (IWRRC). Current funded projects in Indiana include (click next to the project title to expand the information): (click next to each project title to expand the information):


Principal Investigators: Dr. Laura C. Bowling, Purdue University, Department of Agronomy and Dr. Linda S. Prokopy, Purdue University, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources

September 2014-August 2017

Abstract: Stormwater management, including the infrastructure for water conveyance, drainage and treatment, is an increasing water problem for communities of all sizes. This project is addressing the need to improve and enhance the nation’s water supply through evaluation of what limits adoption of urban stormwater conservation practices. Stormwater conservation practices, such as rain gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement offer the potential of decreasing stormwater volumes and reducing water quality impacts, but their utilization is generally lower than their agricultural counterparts. The goal of this proposed work is to improve water quality planning and implementation through recommendations to improve the overall adoption, penetration and permanence of urban stormwater BMPs. Our research approach blends statistical analysis with social science techniques to determine 1) how many BMPs do we need? and 2) how can we get them in the watershed?


Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Gary A. Lamberti, University of Notre Dame, Department of Biological Sciences, and Dr. Graham F. Peaslee, University of Notre Dame, Department of Physics

August 31, 2019 – August 30, 2021

Abstract: Aquatic resource managers are faced with the dual challenge of protecting natural resources while also ensuring acceptable access and risk to humans who utilize those resources. Our research will provide managers with new information on PFAS levels and trophic transfer in Great Lakes fisheries exploited by commercial, recreational, and tribal entities. This research will produce relevant and timely data to assist managers and officials in assessing the extent of PFAS pollution for prevention or amelioration. Currently, most fish consumption guidelines are informed by legacy contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, PCBs) that are well monitored in fish. However, mounting evidence suggests that current fish consumption guidelines should also consider emerging contaminants such as PFAS if warranted by quantitative information. A thorough study of Great Lakes sport fish would be prohibitively expensive with traditional methods of PFAS analysis (LC-MS/MS), but our novel screening method (PIGE) will allow the first study of its kind on predator and prey fish in Lake Michigan. Our specific aims are to: (1) determine the concentrations and speciation of PFAS in important Lake Michigan sportfish, (2) evaluate dietary routes for PFAS exposure from prey to predator fish using δ15N and δ13C stable isotopes along with PFAS speciation, (3) assess the relationship between total fluorine and PFAS concentrations to determine the full extent of the PFAS problem, and (4) compare observed PFAS concentrations in fish from Lake Michigan to other areas including known areas of PFAS contamination in the upper Great Lakes region. In coordination with the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) sampling efforts planned for Lake Michigan in 2020, we will obtain fish samples from across Lake Michigan supplemented with fish collected at known PFAS ‘hotspots’ in Lake Huron and the Detroit corridor. Tissue samples will be obtained from approximately 500 individual fish (250 sportfish and 250 prey fish) along with fish identity and biometric information (i.e., length, mass, sex, age, location/depth collected). First, we will assay all individual fish using Particle-Induced Gamma-ray Emission (PIGE) spectroscopy developed by our research team (and only existing at Notre Dame), which rapidly and accurately quantifies total fluorine concentrations in a sample as a surrogate measure of PFAS. Second, sportfish and prey fish with the highest total fluorine concentrations (n=100) will be sent to collaborating laboratories (Carleton University and Trident Laboratories) for detailed analysis of specific PFAS using LC-MS/MS. Finally, stable isotopes of C and N will be analyzed for all individual fish using isotope-ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS, located at Notre Dame). Stable isotope mixing models (e.g., MixSIAR) will allow us to infer putative diets of sportfish to trace dietary transfer of PFAS. In aggregate, these studies will provide the first picture of the extent and severity of the PFAS load in important Lake Michigan sportfish as a model for the Great Lakes, potential pathways of food web transferal, and implications for human health. This research will be facilitated by collaborations with USGS scientists engaged in ecotoxicology and fish ecology at three different USGS laboratories.