Summer Update from the IWC Graduate Student Research Grant Program: Emily Martin

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Post submitted by Emily Martin, MS Environmental Science student at Iowa State University

Intensive farming and heavy nutrient application in the Midwest coupled with an extensive subsurface tile drainage network frequently leads to excessive nutrients in surface waters. As a result, heavy amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus has become a critical issue for policy and water research.

In spring 2017, I was awarded funding in the Iowa Water Center Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition for my project titled, “Enhancing phosphate removal in woodchip bioreactors.” This project is conducted under advisement of Dr. Michelle Soupir at Iowa State University. A bioreactor is a subsurface trench along the edge of the field that can be filled with a range of different carbon sources. They are identified as a practice to help mitigate nutrient loss to flowing water systems, and so they deserve further research to understand their full capacity to capture water nutrients.

The goal of the project is to evaluate the ability of woodchip bioreactors to remove phosphorous by adding biochar as a phosphate (P) amendment to bioreactors. Objectives of the study are (1) to assess the effectiveness of different amendments on P removal in bioreactors and (2) to analyze the effect of influent P on overall removal.

We broke the project down into two main parts: a P sorption study and a column study. We completed part one during the month of June using 18 different types of biochar. The biochar was made by Bernardo Del Campo at ARTichar using three different temperatures of slow pyrolysis, 400°C, 600°C, and 800°C. We used six different types of biomass provided by the BioCentury Research Farm and the City of Ames, which are: switchgrass, corn stover, ash trees, red oak, mixed pine, and loblolly pine. The goal was to test a variety of biomass to see which would perform best as a P amendment and under which pyrolysis conditions they would function best.

Biochar is made using a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the burning of plant materials in a low to no oxygen chamber in order to “activate” the carbon structures that exists naturally within plants. The highly structured form of carbon rings in plants is desired for its stability and potential to adsorb or bind with chemicals, including phosphate and nitrate. There are two main types of pyrolysis: fast and slow, which refers to the amount of time the biomass remains in the pyrolysis chamber. Fast pyrolysis can be used to create biochar, but the yield is lower than slow pyrolysis. The temperature of pyrolysis can impact how the biochar interacts with different chemicals. In order to test these effects, we used three different temperatures when making our biochar.

Results from the P sorption study showed a few patterns. The main take away is that none of the biochars we tested adsorbed P exceptionally well; however, of the biochars we tested, the following were our top five P adsorbers:

  1. Corn stover @ 800°C
  2. Loblolly pine @ 600°C
  3. Red oak @ 600°C
  4. Switch grass @ 800°C
  5. Mixed pine @ 400°C

Because none of the biochars performed well in our P sorption test, we had to make a decision for the second part of the project. We came up with two options: (1) find new biomass and run the P sorption test again, or (2) test how well all 18 biochars remove nitrate from water. We chose option two and have begun nitrate batch tests, which will run throughout July. The batch tests are being run in one liter flasks and are tested at 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours to simulate woodchip bioreactor residence times found in the field.

After the nitrate batch test is complete, we will analyze results and decide if we will move forward with option one and see how other biomasses perform in a P sorption test.

Check back later on to learn more about the progress of this project!

 

SWCD Internship Available (Greene County)

2017 Greene Soil and Water Conservation District Summer Internships

Duration: 10-12 weeks, 40 hours per week

Locations available: Jefferson, Iowa (Greene County)

Pay: $12.00 per hour

Qualifications: Open to any students currently enrolled in college or recent graduate majoring in a field of study related to agriculture, conservation, engineering, construction trades, GIS, communications, public relations, urban planning, or environmental sciences.

Duties: The Intern will assist the Greene Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service with duties including, but not limited to:

  • Working with local landowners and partners to develop interest in and commitment to implementation of conservation programs and activities
  • Water quality monitoring through the collection of water quality samples
  • Assist field office staff with the development of conservation plans and implementation of conservation practices
  • Working with Palmer Amaranth in CRP plantings.

Work environment: This position includes both office and field work. Successful candidates will work as part of a local team as well as independently, be able to traverse rough terrain on foot, spend time outdoors in the summer months, be able to work with the public including landowners and customers, use GPS/GIS tools, work in extreme temperature or inclement weather as required, work around large equipment, and complete work in a timely manner. A valid driver’s license is required.

Reporting: The Intern will report to the District Conservationist on a day-to-day basis. A background check of the student will be required.

The student Intern will also make a formal presentation at the end of their internship to report on their experience and work completed over the summer. The student is expected to coordinate the planning of this meeting and present findings to interested conservation partners.

Deadline to apply: Applications must be received (not postmarked) by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, May 8th, 2017

Application Process: Submit a Cover letter and Resume or attached application to: Greene Soil and Water Conservation District, 1703 N ELM ST, Jefferson, Iowa 50129

SWCD Internship Available (Boone County)

2017 Boone Soil and Water Conservation District Summer Internships

Duration: 10-12 weeks, 40 hours per week

Locations available: Boone, Iowa (Boone County)

Pay: $12.00 per hour

Qualifications: Open to any students currently enrolled in college or recent graduate majoring in a field of study related to agriculture, conservation, engineering, construction trades, GIS, communications, public relations, urban planning, or environmental sciences.

Duties: The Intern will assist the Boone Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service with duties including, but not limited to:

  • Working with local landowners and partners to develop interest in and commitment to implementation of conservation programs and activities
  • Water quality monitoring through the collection of water quality samples
  • Assist field office staff with the development of conservation plans and implementation of conservation practices
  • Working with Palmer Amaranth in CRP plantings.

Work environment: This position includes both office and field work.  Successful candidates will work as part of a local team as well as independently, be able to traverse rough terrain on foot, spend time outdoors in the summer months, be able to work with the public including landowners and customers, use GPS/GIS tools, work in extreme temperature or inclement weather as required, work around large equipment, and complete work in a timely manner.  A valid driver’s license is required.

Reporting:  The Intern will report to the District Conservationist on a day-to-day basis. A background check of the student will be required. The student Intern will also make a formal presentation at the end of their internship to report on their experience and work completed over the summer. The student is expected to coordinate the planning of this meeting and present findings to interested conservation partners.

 Deadline to apply

Applications must be received (not postmarked) by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, May 8th, 2017

Application Process

Submit a Cover letter and Resume or 2017 Boone SWCD Summer Intern Application to:

Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, 1602 Snedden Drive, Boone, Iowa 50036

For more information about a specific position, contact:

Boone, Iowa (Boone County) – Jayne Smith, Conservation Assistant, 515-432-2316 Ext. 3

Iowa Water Conference 2017

Submitted by Solomon Worlds, Iowa Water Center Science Communication Intern

Dear Readership:

The discussion of water research and policy at the Iowa Water Conference was far from dry. As a student who is very interested in the happenings of Iowa’s waterways, I found many aspects of the conference very informative.

The first presentation, “From the Bottom Up,” was a terrific way to get everyone engaged right from the start. Chad’s story of cleaning the Mississippi river, among others, was inspiring and exhilarating. The sessions after this were all quite informative, but I remember thinking, “I know nothing.” As I expressed in the past, my water knowledge is shabby at best and that was never more salient than it was when I was at the Iowa Water Conference (It also did not help that I was ill and made frequent trips to the restroom to wash my hands to prevent the spread of germs).

The second day, which featured a version of me that did not have a fever or a runny nose, was much more enjoyable. I was also the moderator for the “Engaging the community as a partner” sessions. Hearing about a project that has happened in a community near me in the second session was fascinating. I had no idea that so much was happening right in my city. Hearing about new scientific educational methods to engage our young students early on in their education was also very interesting, as I have been a student for the bulk of my young life. The last discussion in that track was on communicating the risk of what is happening and, as a science communicator, I found that immensely useful.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the Iowa Water Conference. I wish I had been healthier, but that is not the Water Conference’s problem. I did feel a bit isolated, however, being that my research is in psychology and policy. I would recommend brushing up on H2O before you decide to go.

 

Flow freely my friends,

P.S.: Rick Cruse is a man of many talents. When he is not leading the Iowa Water Center, he writes lyrics to famous songs. Check it out! https://youtu.be/SPeHRhxhBI4

Solomon Furious Worlds

Breaking down the Waters of the US

Submitted by Solomon Worlds, Iowa Water Center Science Communication Intern

Note: This post, and the referenced Riessen article, was written prior to the release of the Executive Order issues on WOTUS. The EO can be found here.

Hello Readership,

Recently, there has been a great deal of commotion around a recurring Supreme Court case that has yet to be ruled on. This legal battle is just another in the long line of battles over a famous piece of legislation we know as the Clean Water Act (CWA). This most recent battle is over the “Waters of the US rule” (WOTUS) definition that was made by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in June of 2015. Immediately after the decision was made, many legislators and officials (including our Iowa governor and two federal senators) voiced their opposition.

Some say that the federal government is overstepping their bounds. They say the federal government does not have jurisdiction over some of the WOTUS and that the June 2015 definition is either too broad or too vague. However, is there real constitutional precedent to halt the federal government’s involvement? What is actually in the CWA? Since this fight has made it to back the Supreme Court, what is different? And, what were the decisions of previous hearings? What will be the outcome of this rendition?

Jack Riessen, P.E., retired Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee and former advisory board member for the Iowa Water Center, wrote a short informative report in January 2017 that answers all of my above questions and probably a few others that you may have thought of. His well-written article carefully gives a brief history of the CWA fight by outlining the events of the past that have gotten us to where we are now. This enlightening review is written to appeal to those who do and those who do not know a lot about water, making it accessible for everyone. Click here to read Riessen’s full piece.

Flow forward my friends,

Solomon Furious Worlds

P.S.: In my first post, I promised more information on my name. My father wanted my middle name to start with an “F.” It was almost “Francis,” but there was a character from a popular 1991 film featured a character whose name was “Jason ‘Furious’ Styles.”

Iowa State University Research Farms Utilize Conservation Practices for Science, Stewardship

Story originally appeared on the Iowa State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences website

Iowa State University’s 13 Research and Demonstration Farms around the state have served for decades as models of agricultural and scientific progress for Iowa’s farmers and landowners.

The same holds true for the goals of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

For years the university’s agricultural researchers have used the farms to study and demonstrate the effects of conservation practices to preserve water quality, keep soils productive and improve the environment. The work has been conducted on acres devoted to research and those not currently in research plots but devoted to producing crops or sustaining livestock.

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Angie Rieck-Hinz talks with farmers about the benefits of different types of cover crops at a field day at the Northern Research and Demonstration Farm.

The ISU research farms strive to serve as models of stewardship by implementing practices on fields, field edges and streamside borders. By practicing what they preach, these farms inspire visitors to do the same.

Matt Schnabel, the superintendent at ISU’s Northern Research Farm near Kanawha, said the farm serves as a model for neighboring farmers.

Cover crops

“The majority of our fields without trials are planted with cover crops. We also have planted milkweed for monarch butterfly conservation and for pollinator habitat,” said Schnabel, a 2010 graduate of ISU in agricultural systems technology. “All these practices add benefits to the land, environment and cropping system. Installing and utilizing these practices on our research farm allows farmers to see things first-hand before implementing on their own farms. We act as a guinea pig and show them what they can do on their land.”

Schnabel said he’d like to put more acres into habitat, reduced tillage, and add saturated buffers. Saturated buffers reduce the movement of nutrients by diverting a portion of tile flow into shallow groundwater. This raises the water table of the buffer and allows organic matter to remove nitrate before the water enters an adjacent stream.

Cover crops are one practice outlined in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nitrate leaching from fields. Additionally, cover crops are beneficial to agricultural systems by increasing soil organic matter. Ames-area ISU farms have been using oats, radishes or winter rye as cover crops.

Tim Goode, manager for ISU Research and Demonstration Farms and the Committee for Agricultural Development, a nonprofit affiliated university organization, said that in the last year 800 acres of cover crops were planted on research farms and other acres of cropland. Besides cover crops, the research farms use an array of 18 other nutrient management practices from the strategy, including wetlands, extended rotations and runoff retention.

“The research farms use a broad range of nutrient management practices,” Goode said. “In the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the Iowa State-led science assessment team lists many research-proven practices to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous losses. Each of these practices have been studied and then implemented multiple times on ISU-managed farmland, either in the Ames area or on farms around the state.”

Long-term projects at the Northeast research farm

The ISU research farm near Nashua celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and has been a long-term example of water quality and conservation success, thanks to a university, local group and agribusiness partnership. The Nashua research farm has been the site of dozens water quality research projects and many field days to show off the results.

The Nashua farm has implemented and maintained many conservation practices, including cover crops, buffers and bioreactors. Its water quality plots — each drained by a separate tile drainage line in a long-term monitoring project — was initiated in 1988, with funding from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The farm also installed an early version of a bioreactor, an edge-of-field conservation practice that removes tile flow nitrates by way of denitrification through a woodchip basin underground. The next generation of bioreactor research is closer to campus near Boone at the Agricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm. At this site, scientists monitor nine experimental bioreactors which are being tested for various tile drainage volumes and fill materials with funding provided by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

In the coming year, the next installation of water quality projects will be completed by ISU partnering with Committee for Agricultural Development, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Big Creek Watershed Protection Project and the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District on a university-managed farm near Madrid. At this location, a series of three conservation practices will be installed to reduce the nutrient load entering Big Creek:  saturated buffers, an oxbow wetland and a double-barreled bioreactor. Each of these conservation practices has been outlined in the strategy as effective edge-of-field nutrient management tools.

“Many research and educational needs, demands, uses and decisions impact how ISU-managed land is used annually. But overall, ISU is strongly committed to managing farmland and implementing practices in a manner that supports land stewardship over the long term,” Goode said.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.

Conservation/Nutrient Management Practices by farm

Agricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm near Boone

  • Wetlands
  • Buffers
  • Runoff retention
  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Strip tillage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • N fertilizer inhibitor

Allee Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Newell

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • N fertilizer inhibitor

Armstrong Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Lewis

  • Wetlands
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Central Iowa Research and Demonstration Farms near Ames

  • Wetlands
  • Bioreactor
  • Oat and radish cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Strip tillage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Horticulture Research Station near Ames

  • Winter rye cover crop
  • Terraces
  • Runoff retention
  • Perennial crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation

McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Chariton

  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Extended rotation of alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with grass and alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Muscatine Island Research and Demonstration Farm near Fruitland

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Strip tillage

Neely-Kinyon Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Greenfield

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Nashua

  • Bioreactors
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Strip tillage

Northern Research and Demonstration Farm near Kanawha

  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Strip Tillage
  • Controlled drainage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm near Sutherland

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Crawfordsville

  • Buffers
  • Extended rotation of alfalfa
  • Strip Tillage
  • Wetlands
  • Controlled drainage
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Perennial energy crops

Western Research and Demonstration Farm near Castana

  • Buffers
  • Terraces
  • Runoff retention
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
Contacts:

Tim Goode, Iowa State Research Farms, 641-751-0280, trgoode@iastate.edu
Matt Schnabel, ISU Northern Research Farm, 507-923-5368, mschn@iastate.edu
Dana Woolley, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, 515-294-5905, dwoolley@iastate.edu

Geographic Information Systems at Iowa State University

We “dig” the data…

Written by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

Big data requires big software and big ideas. This can especially be  true when it comes to managing our water-related resources. Today, we have access to numerous data points about our soil and water that can assist in understanding current landscape conditions and to plan for the future. Information such as this is not useful unless it can be analyzed by the experts using software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Recently, Inside Iowa State published a story regarding the geographic information systems support and research facility located on the Iowa State University campus. This facility provides a myriad of resources for teaching and tools related to using GIS for mapping and analyzing data. This facility not only trains students and provides extension services, but is also making an impact on “groundbreaking” research. Knowledge can be a powerful tool not only in enabling better policy and practices, but to inspire researchers to tackle innovative projects.

Work associated with the facility is The Daily Erosion Project. This is a research project housed within the Iowa Water Center and is driven by vast amounts of natural science information for better assessment of our soil. This research endeavor uses a multitude of data sources, including soil types, hill slopes, daily precipitation, and other data points to estimate soil movement and water runoff from the rolling hills of Iowa on a daily basis. All of this information is processed and transformed by a team of scientists and analysts to enable better decision-making on land uses in the Midwest. You can read more about it from Dr. Richard Cruse here.

What can the Daily Erosion Project be used for, you ask?

Output from the tool can provide an inventory of soil loss at the watershed level, assess the potential for water storage capacity in the soil, and be used to identify sensitive areas to target the use of conservation practices.  As the project acquires more information and interest by the public, it is expanding. Currently, the tool is growing to provide assessments in Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Illinois.

Our landscapes are ever-changing. Because of this, it is energizing to see the tools and the talent at work through research facilities and solution-centered projects to tackle the critical problems we face in managing our soil and water resources.