Waterways along Midwestern farmlands are typically managed to move stormwater away from crop fields quickly, but this efficient process can wash nutrients and sediment into lakes and rivers, nearby and downstream. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant researchers have found that a change in waterway management practices can lead to a win-win—water is still quickly drained from crops with two-stage ditches, but because they have more floodplain area, stormwater slows down so more nitrogen is retained along the way.
Sara McMillan at Purdue University and Jennifer Tank at University of Notre Dame are monitoring nitrogen and phosphorus loads coming from two-stage ditches in farmland waterways to document how effective restored floodplains are at holding nutrients in place. “By restoring mini-floodplains on each side of these formerly channelized ditches, you add the potential for enhanced biology and hydrology to cleanse the water through nutrient and sediment removal,” said Tank, whose primary work is in ecology and environmental biology.
“Floodplains provide a way for water to spread out and slow down—allowing sediment to accumulate and plants and soil microbes to thrive. When plants thrive, this allows organic matter in the soil to increase,” said McMillan. In this environment, microbes use nitrogen for energy, removing it from the water as they transform it into a gas—a process called denitrification.
(Graphic courtesy of Brittany Hanrahan)
Brittany Hanrahan, whose doctoral research at Notre Dame was a part of this study, compared the effectiveness of reducing nitrogen in two-stage ditches with waterways in which traditional channelization management has stopped for at least a decade. Over time, these channels in northern Indiana developed mini-floodplains and began to look like more natural streams. The two-stage ditches in the study were about 10 years old.
Hanrahan, who now has a postdoctoral position with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, found that denitrification was 30 percent higher along two-stage floodplains compared to the naturalized ones. The two-stage ditches have more floodplain area than the naturalized channels and are designed to flood more often, which allows denitrification to happen more frequently.
“We calculated that it would take nearly 30 years for the floodplain in the naturalized ditch to accumulate the surface area of floodplain that is constructed in just one day in the two-stage ditch,” said Hanrahan. “Jump-starting the biology with two-stage construction really helps to remove more nitrogen even immediately after construction.”
While slowing down floodwater is conducive to denitrification, phosphorus goes through a different biological process. In fact, if floodwater stands long enough, phosphorus may be released from particles in the soil and water. On the other hand, creating space for water to spread out and slow down can enhance the settling of sediment particles with phosphorus attached.
The design of the two-stage ditch, including the height and width of the floodplain, can make a difference in terms of flooding frequency and duration. One general practice, according to McMillan, is to triple the width of the channel—if it is a 10-foot wide channel, 10 feet are added on either side so it is 30 feet wide.
“We’re pretty confident from previous research that it takes a long time for phosphorus to be released, so it’s not likely that we’re causing a net release of phosphorus that is stored in soils,” said McMillan, who is in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. “While we think that these ditches pose a net benefit for both phosphorus and nitrogen, phosphorus is indeed more complicated.”
Most two-stage ditches can be found in Indiana, which may be because the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program covers the majority of the cost of installing them in the state. It’s a one-time construction cost, whereas dredging to maintain trapezoidal channels needs to happen every few years, depending on the system. “With a two-stage ditch, the velocities in the main channel, which is the original channel, are fast enough during high flows that it is always self-cleaning,” said Tank. “You never have to dredge again.”
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana’s average air temperatures are expected to rise by as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century, warming and reducing wintertime ice cover on the state’s lakes, streams, and rivers. At the same time, increases in winter and spring rainfall will likely wash more nutrients from farm fields into those water bodies, adding significant challenges to already fragile ecosystems.
Those are some of the key points in “Aquatic Ecosystems in a Shifting Indiana Climate,” the latest report from the Purdue University-based Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, released during a community briefing Sept. 12 at Bass Pro Shops in Portage, Indiana.
“Changes in Indiana’s climate are going to affect the timing of water flows, the quality of water and water temperatures. All of these things have major implications for the wide variety of animals and plants that live in aquatic ecosystems,” said Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. “Climate change is an additional stressor to Indiana’s native fish population. We already have invasive fish in many of our water bodies, and we have added a wide variety of pollutants and nutrients to our streams. How well some of our native populations will be able to deal with this accumulation of stresses piling up on them is still unclear.”
Rising water temperatures will likely shift stratification – the layering of water at different depths in lakes. That may improve or increase habitat for the state’s warm water fish.
However, those rising temperatures and increasing spring rain totals will send more nutrients from farm fields into nearby waters. That combination is problematic for many coldwater species, such as cisco, a native fish that used to exist in about 50 of the state’s lakes but has already suffered from rising temperatures.
“Because many of our lakes are very nutrient-rich, they experience large algal blooms in late spring and summer, which may grow larger with warmer temperatures and more spring runoff. Dead algae later settle to the lake’s bottom and are decomposed by bacteria, depleting the water’s oxygen,” said Tomas Höök, Purdue professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences, director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and lead author of the report. “This creates hypoxia in bottom waters. Cisco are going to get really squeezed from warmer temperatures on the surface and lack of oxygen on the bottom. Cisco persist in six lakes right now, but they may not be present in the state much longer.”
Changing precipitation patterns could also negatively impact Indiana’s already-endangered freshwater mussels, with different effects across seasons. Drier summers will likely reduce water levels in streams where the mussels live, exposing them to intolerable conditions. In the spring increased stream flows could dislodge mussels from their habitats in rivers.
Wetlands may stay wet longer in the spring and dry more than usual during the summer, altering ecosystems that depend on critical seasonal timing. Some plants and animals adapted to Indiana’s current climate may not thrive here in the coming decades.
In Lake Michigan, where near-surface temperatures have already warmed by 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, temperature changes could lead some coldwater fishes, such as salmon, trout and lake whitefish, to move further offshore to deeper waters. As a result, they may spend less time in the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan, which are relatively shallow and warm. The lake’s warmer temperatures could also affect growth, spawning or reproductive processes for many valuable commercial and sport fish species.
Höök suggests those tasked with managing Indiana’s aquatic ecosystems focus on maintaining or increasing both genetic and habitat diversity.
“Trying to make precise predictions of how species will respond to climate change is tricky,” Höök said. “Climate change is one of many factors impacting aquatic organisms, along with pollution, invasive species, fisheries harvest and habitat destruction. But maintaining a diversity of species, habitats and genetic variation within these ecosystems should help buffer against these different stressors.”
Carolyn Foley, research coordinator for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and a co-author on the report, suggests that people all over the state have the ability to help work on the issue, from researchers to everyday people.
“There are a lot of freshwater ecosystems in Indiana—streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, reservoirs,” said Foley. “And a lot of great, water-related research happening here, too. In this report, researchers worked together to paint a rich picture of how aquatic ecosystem components might be affected by climate change. If the general public wants to help, they could think about volunteering with local watershed alliances or other organizations trying to improve waterways through cleanups, habitat restoration, or decreasing runoff from land to water. Keeping waters as healthy as possible will support robust ecosystems, which are more likely to successfully navigate the changes that are coming.”
The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA) is compiling the latest scientific research into a series of easily understandable reports about climate change impacts in 10 topic areas: climate, health, forest ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, urban green infrastructure, tourism and recreation, agriculture, water resources, energy, and infrastructure. The assessment team consists of more than 100 experts from Purdue and other Indiana institutions.
The IN CCIA has now released six reports. All are available on the IN CCIA website at http://indianaclimate.org/. For more information about the IN CCIA, go to the website or follow on social media at @PurdueCCRC, #ClimateChange, #INCCIA.
Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-532-0233, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Jeff Dukes, 765-496-3662, email@example.com
Tomas Höök, 765-496-6799, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Foley, email@example.com
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University will administer the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program (IISG), previously managed by the University of Illinois, effective Feb. 1, 2018. New IISG director Tomas Höök, a fisheries biologist in Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, will lead the administration.
IISG research, outreach and education efforts bring the latest science to southern Lake Michigan residents and decision makers and empower them to secure a healthy environment and economy.
The program has been a leader in the region on aquatic invasive species control, pollution prevention and Great Lakes literacy, and has developed decision tools that help communities grow while protecting natural resources. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant supports more than 50 permanent medicine collection programs in the Great Lakes region, has helped the Indiana aquaculture industry grow fivefold and provides resources for municipalities to plan for future water supplies.
Terri Hallesy, IISG education coordinator, engages elementary students at the University of Illinois’ Brady STEM Academy about the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes.
IISG is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Purdue University and the University of Illinois.
Tomas Höök, Director
“While Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has recently been administered by the University of Illinois, it has always been a truly bi-state program,” says Höök, who has served as IISG’s associate director for research since 2010. “For the past 16 years, the program has greatly benefitted from IISG leadership at Illinois, especially Brian Miller and Lisa Merrifield. With program administration moving to Purdue, IISG will continue to work to empower Lake Michigan communities in both Illinois and Indiana through applied discovery and information dissemination.”
Purdue University and the University of Illinois have worked closely to oversee IISG since 1982, periodically transferring the program directorship. Over its 36 years, the program has maintained an administrative presence at both universities.
“When I started my career with Sea Grant in 1994, we were going through an administrative transition similar to the one happening right now,” says Brian Miller, who has been program director for 11 years and is now retiring. “What we have accomplished since that time provides a wonderful platform for even greater growth in the future.”
IISG Aquatic Ecologist Jay Beugly helps Purdue University student Margaret Hutton sample Lake Michigan water near Wilmette, Illinois.
IISG is part of the National Sea Grant College program, established in 1966 to protect and preserve America’s coastline and water resources to create a sustainable economy and environment. The network consists of a partnership between NOAA and 33 university-based programs in every coastal and Great Lakes state.
The council serves as a resource for local communities to provide information and expertise on land use and zoning issues.
Salazar’s affiliation with Purdue University Extension has helped communities throughout Indiana identify issues that impact their sustainability and land use policies. She will serve a four-year term through November 15, 2019.
Honors and AP high school students from Howard County, Ind. got their feet really wet Thursday at the 2015 Wildcat Experience at Wildcat Creek near Kokomo.
The program was started by Howard County Stormwater Technician Sarah Brichford with important goals for these high achievers.
Wildcat Creek is 84 miles long and a major tributary of the Wabash River. In 2003, a study showed that most of its pollutants are from urban and rural run-off and wastewater discharge. Since then, state and local governments have taken steps to stem the flow of contaminants.
Plus, they decided to bring youth into the picture.
“We wanted to get high school students who are taking biology and environmental sciences out into the community so they could see some local natural resources, and more importantly, some of the services and infrastructure that depend on the natural environment like wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater treatment,” Brichford said.
“That’s why we created this, so they could experience it live and in person.”
Six years and hundreds of students later, Wildcat Experience is thriving and educating students with the help of volunteers and IISG specialists.
Jay Beugly, an IISG aquatic ecologist, shared his expertise on the region’s fish and aquatic insects. He was also hoping to change a few minds about the pollution stigma the Wildcat carries to this day.
“Typically students that come to this don’t get in the water initially because they think it’s so polluted,” Beugly said. “But I hope they go home and tell family that it has a lot of good fish and insects that don’t occur in terrible streams. I hope that they’ll decide that Wildcat Creek is a lot better than they initially thought.”
So after fish, water, macroinvertebrate, and soil testing some of the students felt differently about the creek right in their backyard.
“There’s a lot more diversity than you would think there would be in Indiana,” senior Sarah Schwarzkopf said.
“I always thought the Wildcat was really dirty, but after all the tests we did it’s really not that bad.”
With the boating season winding down for the year, Clean Boat Crew (CBC) volunteers and site leaders can take a deep breath knowing they engaged a record number of boaters, anglers, and other water recreationists this year to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).
The CBC reached 4,431 water-lovers — 25 percent more than last year’s all-time high of 3,519 — at boat ramps and docks in 10 locations in Illinois and Indiana. The crews were out from Memorial Day weekend to August 9.
The program in its fifth year continued to educate about ways to prevent the transfer of AIS from one waterbody to another through simple cleaning techniques outlined in the Be a Hero – TransportZero™ campaign:
Remove plants, animals, and mud from all equipment
Drain all water from your boat and gear
Dry everything thoroughly with a towel
The crews distributed 8,000 pieces of outreach materials not only at busy marinas, but at several summer events: Gary’s Clean Water Days Festival, the Big Bass Bash, Hammond Marina’s Venetian Night, the Geoffrey Morris Memorial Fishing Tournament at North Point Marina, and Harbor Days at North Point Marina.
“The program continues to be well-received by the public, and more and more people recognize the message. But there’s still a lot of curiosity about it, which leads me to conclude that there’s still work to be done,” said Sarah Zack, an IISG organizer of the program.
Alyssa Hausman, a master’s student in environmental science at Indiana University, shares her experiences as a Knauss Fellow at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
I have had great experiences working with the Knauss fellows in the past, so when I started graduate school in 2012, I knew that this fellowship was an opportunity that I couldn’t afford to not pursue.
After an extensive application process, I found out last June that I was a finalist for the 2015 fellowship class as an executive fellow. As one of 40 executive fellows, I had a wide-range of offices and positions that I could potentially be placed in. Executive fellows placements span a range of departments: Commerce, Interior, Navy, Energy, and independent agencies such as the EPA and National Science Foundation.
After a daunting placement week, complete with 15 back-to-back interviews, I was placed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — an agency dedicated to conserving fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats. My fellowship with the Service’s Division of Congressional and Legislative Affairs provides me the opportunity to engage the legislative branch on important wildlife issues, and even work alongside Knauss fellows in the legislative branch. My work so far has focused on the Endangered Species Act, coastal resources, and wildlife, and sport fish restoration.
Throughout the course of the fellowship, I have been able to visit various Service assets, including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the National Wildlife Repository. I recently spent a month in the Service’s regional office outside of Denver, Colo., which included a short trip to view conservation efforts in the Dakotas. These opportunities have taught me so much about the Service’s efforts on important issues that I do not work on directly, such as invasive species control, wildlife trafficking, and habitat conversion.
The National Wildlife Repository is responsible for receiving wildlife items that have been forfeited or abandoned to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now that I am half-way through my fellowship year and the next cohort of fellows has been selected, it is time for me to consider my next steps seriously. I have greatly enjoyed my time so far working with the Service and hope that I will have the opportunity to continue working with the agency, whether it be within the agency or outside as a partner.
Regardless of where I end up in February, I am looking forward to being a part of the Knauss alumni network and maintaining the personal and professional relationships that I’ve developed with my peers in the fellowship.
With the water sports season in full swing, a coalition of Indiana officials and community groups is hosting a Water Safety Day to raise awareness of safe boating and swimming practices. Hoosiers are invited to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Michigan City on June 6 from 10 am to 2 pm.
More than 20 people drowned in Lake Michigan last year, and many of those incidents took place at the southern end of the lake. Since 2010, roughly 380 people have drowned in the Great Lakes according to data collected by the Great Lakes Surf and Rescue Project (GLSRP).
Water Safety Day will feature information on everything from choosing proper boating equipment to tools developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) that tell beach-goers when and where it’s safe to be in the water. Paddlers and boaters can also hear about best practices from the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).
The event will also feature messages from a new regional water safety campaign with tips for steering clear of dangerous currents and waves. The Be Current Smart campaign encourages swimmers not to jump off structures or enter the water when waves are high. And parents are reminded to “be a water watcher” and keep a close eye on children while they’re in the water.
In addition to hosting Water Safety Day, the Southern Lake Michigan Water Safety Task Force will also participate in several Coastal Awareness Month events slated through June. The group, which was formed last year by IISG, includes representatives from Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coastal Management Program, Indiana Dunes State Park, USCG, NWS, IDEM, GLSRP and NWIPA, as well as officials and beach managers in several coastal communities.
Steve Park was one of 15 Great Lakes educators to set sail on Lake Erie last year for the annual Shipboard Science Workshop. Today, we hear a little of what he and his 7th grade students have been up to since.
As a veteran teacher of enthusiastic middle school students, I adhere to Albert Einstein’s quote, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
This school year started just like the first 20 years of my teaching career, with our study of environment science. However, it didn’t take long for my students to realize that the learning experiences this year were going to be extra special. Armed with a weeks worth of intense professional development while living on the R/V Lake Guardian motoring around Lake Erie, I had the resources, experiences, knowledge, and support to provide my students with the incredible conditions necessary for them to learn.
When teaching about the environment and stewardship, I have two goals. First, I want students to know specifically how they impact their local and global environments. Second, I want students to know how they can have a positive influence on their local and global environments. With that in mind, my students began their study on water ecology by conducting a video conference with individuals aboard the Lake Guardiancollecting water samples in Lake St. Clair.Students learned about life on the Lake Guardian, research that is being done on the lake, and the responsibilities of the scientists.
Our focus then turned to our own outdoor classroom, where we have 36 acres of land, a large river, and a couple of smaller creeks.I intentionally set up conditions where my students had numerous opportunities to learn about the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the environment.In addition to traditional sampling techniques, my students conducted independent research projects.For instance, one group wanted to know if the diversity of macro invertebrates changed the farther you got from shore.To test their hypothesis, they created Hester-Dendy samplers and deployed them at various locations and distances from shore.Another group wanted to see if they could use all-natural materials to create a filter capable of reducing the turbidity of our river water to the World Health Organization standard of 5 ppm.
Currently, because of my interactions with Dr. Sam Mason on board the Lake Guardian last summer, my students have received a grant to study the plastic microbeads in our river water.Students will design, construct, and deploy collection seines to help determine the prevalence of these plastics in our water ecosystem.
As a society, we have a long, uphill climb when it comes to improving the quality of our wonderful Great Lakes. However, I am confident that the experiences I had during the Lake Erie Shipboard Science Workshop, the connections I made with incredibly supportive people, and the high quality curricular materials and equipment I received will provide my students with the conditions in which they can learn. This, in turn, will make that climb a little bit easier.
***Photo A: Students hear from a fishery biologist about the importance of fish stocking and how the technique is being used to study invasive species like Asian carp. ***Photo B: Students get their hands dirty learning about macro invertebrates.