Through wastewater education and research projects, onsite specialist Sara Heger is making a difference for the environment in her home state of Minnesota and across the country.
Aided by a Water Resources Center grant, University of Minnesota Soil, Water and Climate assistant professor Brandy Toner and professor Ed Nater have been sampling glacial aquifers in west central and south central Minnesota in an effort to map the stratigraphic and mineralogical sources of arsenic in groundwater.
This summer, researchers from the University’s Biotechnology Institute were awarded a $600,000 federal grant to develop technology to treat flowback water. Led by College of Biological Sciences professor Lawrence Wackett, the team includes Alptekin Aksan, professor in the College of Science and Engineering, and Michael Sadowsky, a Water Resources Sciences graduate program professor in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences.
Minnesota’s reputation for weather extremes will intensify with climate change, bringing more extreme variation in the drought and flood cycle. And it’s a trend that will have an enormous impact on the state’s water resources management, says climatologist Mark Seeley.
If the plants come back, so will the bugs and the fish and the birds… the goal is to develop an ‘ecological design’ for restoration after the sediments have been cleaned up.
Roughly three years ago, John Nieber of the Department of Bioproducts and Bioengineering and John Gulliver of the Department of Civil Engineering submitted a grant request to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) to investigate the lack of water in dry years throughout Minnehaha Creek. Minnehaha Creek is arguably one of the most valued surface water features in the Minneapolis, MN metro area and is heavily used for recreation during the spring, summer, and fall. Flow in Minnehaha Creek is heavily dependent on discharge from the stream’s origin, Lake Minnetonka, the outlet of which is closed during most late summer periods to maintain water elevations in the lake resulting in low- (or no-) flow conditions in the creek. In addition, stormwater runoff entering directly to the creek from the creek’s largely urbanized watershed exacerbates extremes in flow conditions. As a result of these issues, there was interest in enhancing the cultural and ecosystem services provided by Minnehaha Creek through improvements in streamflow regime by reducing flashiness and sustaining increased low-flows.
Throughout Minnesota, cities struggle with the goal of reducing nutrient inputs to urban lakes. The nearly completed Prior Lake Street Sweeping Study took a new look at an old practice, examining the potential of enhanced street sweeping as a source reduction BMP. The study is unique in several aspects: (1) it examined the effect of both percentage tree canopy and sweeping frequency (once, twice, and four times per month); (2) sweeping was done from snowmelt through snowfall, and therefore included autumn leaf fall (most previous studies did not); (3) tree leaves were analyzed separately from the finer sediments; and (4) costs were computed for each of nearly 400 sweeping runs.
Historically, the spring issue of Minnegram covered the research projects receiving grants from the USGS as administered by the Water Resources Center (WRC). This year, due to budget uncertainties from the sequestration, as well as feedback from faculty regarding the proposal process, the WRC focused on supporting students working on existing WRC grants. The awards cover the salary portion of a twelve month Graduate Research Assistantship (RA).
Three principal investigators (PIs) and their USGS-funded projects were chosen to receive the student grants.
As water flows, so do pollutants, sometimes flowing freely over a surface and directly into a water body, or perhaps soaking deep into the groundwater, not to resurface until 50 years or more in the future. Thus, measurable results from efforts to curb nitrate levels in water bodies may also not be seen for years. Kronholm wants to encourage patience when waiting for positive results. “Flow paths determine the length of time from fertilizer application to introduction of excess fertilizer into a stream bed,” says Kronholm, who hopes that his research will create realistic expectations within the farming community and regulatory agencies. High nitrate levels that were years in the making will take years to abate. Kronholm, who was recently awarded the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, feels that farmers are often given a bad rap, when many farmers are trying BMPs voluntarily, often at their own expense. “Hopefully, my research will help scientists, legislators, famers and other stakeholders set realistic goals and expectations for reducing nitrate levels in our water.”
The wet wipes clogging the equipment that University of Minnesota’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program researchers use to study septic system effectiveness were the first clue as to why systems serving adult foster homes experience system failure at a greater rate than other residential treatment systems. Results of a study conducted by staff from the University of Minnesota’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program at six foster homes in Chisago county show that adult foster care homes produce wastewater that is different than typical residential wastewater, with higher levels of contaminates that may contribute to decreased septic system performance. Bleach and other strong cleaning products for example, interfere with organisms required to break down solids in the wastewater.