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):
Communicating the State of Indiana Water Resources
- Principal Investigators: Dr. Keith Cherkauer, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
- 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.
The proposed research addresses a critical state water problem posed by the inaccessibility of comprehensive water resources data that limits the proactive water resources management by individuals, watershed groups and the State.
The results of this work will be an up-to-date and clearly defined web portal for obtaining information, data and insight into the current state of surface and groundwater resources in Indiana that can be used by land managers, agency personnel and legislators to inform short term and long term water management decisions.
Effects of land use type on abundance and type of microplastic pollution – a contaminant of emerging concern in Indiana rivers
- 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?
Effects of viruses on the development of harmful algal blooms.
- 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.
Examining Anthropogenic Impacts on the Wabash River System
- 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.
Floodplain restoration and nutrient retention in the Wabash River Basin
- 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.
Nutrient removal efficiency of a combined surface/subsurface flow wetland system
- 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.
Pilot investigation of variable contaminant loads in fish as a result of foraging and habitat specialization
- 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.
Predicting toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the Wabash River Watershed
- Principal Investigator: Dr. Allison R. Rober, Ball State University, Department of Biology
- 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.
Water and nutrient recovery from aquaculture effluents through vegetable production
- Principal Investigator: Dr. Hye-Ji Kim, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture
- Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Paul Brown and Bob Rode, Purdue University, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources; Dr. Cary Mitchell, 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.
WaterWorks: A game to teach water systems thinking
- Principal Investigator: Dr, Shahzeen Attari, Indiana University, School of Public and Environmental Affairs
- 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.
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):
Can there ever be enough?
- 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?