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!

 

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Waxing poetic about working together (and NIWR)

In the water world, we talk a lot about working together. We all live in a watershed. The importance of partnerships. Work with your upstream neighbor to improve life downstream.

Sometimes, all it is, is talk. We say we want to work together, but it doesn’t happen, for whatever reason – maybe we can’t get together, we get busy with other things, we can’t agree on priorities. But the reason we talk about working together in water is because we do all live in a watershed. Working with your upstream neighbor DOES improve life downstream. Partnerships aren’t only important, they’re vital to success, and when we work together, impactful things happen.

Last week, 49 of the 54 Water Resources Research Institutes got together for the annual director’s meeting. The Virginia Water Resources Research Center planned the meeting this year (we had the honor last year) and for three days, we worked together.

A few droplets that represent the bigger “working together” stream:

-49 out of 54 WRRIs were in attendance. The meeting was in Washington, DC. The Virgin Islands made it. Alaska made it. Even Guam made it. (Actually, Guam director Shahram Khosrowpanah is a valued member of the NIWR board.) Distance didn’t preclude the Institutes from getting together.

-We heard from federal representatives that told us water resources research is headed toward the funding of collaborative, interdisciplinary research – multifaceted projects that address water resources not just from a technical perspective but also from a human dimension perspective. Water resources management IS the proverbial Big Picture. Research will treat it as such.

-Over a period of 24 hours, the Iowa, Illinois, and Tennessee Institutes went from chatting  over a few sandwiches about potentially working on a regional effort to planning, identifying, and putting into action a plan to work with USGS Water Science Centers in our state and region to focus on making a difference in the Mississippi River basin. (More on that as it develops.) All three states have different priorities and run their Institutes a little differently, but we all have one goal.

This meeting was, and always is, a short period of time in which we focus on what it means to work together. Iowans, you have an opportunity to do the same thing next month at the Iowa Water Conference. Use the conference to not only learn about the latest in water management in Iowa, but to find people and organizations with whom you can work together. Work with your upstream neighbor; you WILL improve downstream. Partnerships ARE important. And for goodness sake, we all live in a watershed!

 

 

 

The Fourth [Business] Day of Christmas: Breakout: The Soil/Water Connection

On the fourth [business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…descriptions for the breakout session The Soil/Water Connection.

The following presentations will take place at the Iowa Water Conference in Ames on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Registration for the conference will open in January.

Farmed Potholes: Money maker or profit taker?
Adam Kiel, Environmental Programs and Services State Water Resource Manager, Iowa Soybean Association

This presentation will explore the agricultural productivity and profitability of pothole areas of the Des Moines Lobe landform region.  Yield data from 2006-2014 was combined LiDAR elevation data, market prices and cost of production estimates to determine if profitable conditions exist in pothole areas.

Paying farmers to grow clean water: an analysis of the benefits of CRP lands in Indian Creek
Kris Johnson, Senior Scientist, North America Water, The Nature Conservancy

Targeted restoration of agricultural land is a critical strategy to improve water quality and provide other benefits. This presentation will share results from biophysical-economic analysis of the return-on-investment provided by Conservation Reserve Program lands in the Indian Creek watershed.

Status and Update on River-Floodplain Re-Connectivity Research near Green Island, IA
Greg Nalley, Associate Director, USGS, Iowa Water Science Center

Non-structural alternatives to rebuilding damaged levees such as allowing land to return to natural floodplain have several benefits. Some of these benefits include ecosystem services as well as nutrient cycling.

Improving Water Quality – One Ravine at a Time
Todd Shoemaker, Water Resources Engineer, Wenck Associates, Inc.

Since 2000, Wenck Associates, Inc. has studied more than 60 bank stabilization projects throughout the Upper Midwest. Our experience has identified a parallel between streams and ravines that allows us to adapt and design bioengineered solutions that address the root cause of destabilization and erosion. This presentation will highlight before and after conditions of recent projects.

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: IWC’s 104(b) competition

At long last, the Iowa Water Center has released the request for proposals for the 2016 104(b) seed grant competition. Proposals are due November 16, 2015. This year, there are two programs for which to apply:

Seed Grant Water Research Competition

Funding of up to $30,000 for one year is available for researchers at one of Iowa’s accredited public or private universities or community colleges. Multiple year projects will be considered for the seed grant water research competition, but continued funding for subsequent years is subject to the availability of funds and progress made in the first year. The proposal must indicate what results/products can be achieved in each individual project year. Subsequent year funding is not guaranteed. Researchers seeking second-year funding must resubmit their proposal showing a new budget and progress made.

Priority will be given to projects that show potential for attracting additional grant money from state, federal, and other sources to support the research program. If funded, two short but required reports must be completed during the project year as a USGS requirement. The Iowa Water Center will also request a fact sheet from your work and a contribution to the Iowa Water Conference in the form of a poster or presentation.

In subsequent years, the Iowa Water Center will contact investigators to survey future impacts resulting from the seed grant funding, including “follow-on funding” and partnerships made as a result of grant activities.

The Iowa Water Center anticipates funding one seed grant in 2016.

Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition

Funding of up to $5,000 for one year is available to graduate students nearing completion of their program of study. This program is designed to allow students to complete additional research objectives or products beyond the scope of their current water related funded project. The proposed budget must also include funds for publication costs; students will be encouraged to submit their research to peer-reviewed publications. Iowa Water Center staff will be available to help facilitate such submissions.

The Iowa Water Center anticipates funding two graduate student supplemental grants in 2016.

Priority Area for 2016: nutrients

This year’s focus will be on nutrients and their impact on Iowa’s waters and water management decisions. Excess nutrients in Iowa’s waters contribute to significant water quality issues, both locally and downstream. Public awareness of nutrient-related water quality issues is rising along with pressure on legislative bodies to address nutrient management issues through regulation.

Nutrients in water is a broad topic that may encompass any of the following areas related to excess nutrients in surface and ground water:

  • land use implications
  • tile drainage management
  • sedimentation and phosphorus loss
  • eutrophication
  • water quality monitoring

If you have any questions about this program, please contact Melissa Miller.

FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT: 104(g) National Competitive Grants

The 104(g) National Competitive Grants program is one of three grant programs administered annually by the Iowa Water Center in coordination with the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR).

Funding alert – the National Institutes for Water Resources in conjunction with the US Geological Survey has issued their call for proposals for the 2015 104(g) National Competitive Grants program.

Here’s the scoop…

Proposal URL (<——CLICK ME!)
Due Date:
February 19, 2015
Submit to: niwr.net (hint: you have to create a log-in to get submit, so you may want to get in the system sooner rather than later to play around)
Award maximum and duration: 1-3 years, $250,000 maximum.
Scope: Proposals must focus on “water problems and issues of a regional or interstate nature”. Collaboration between organizations and agencies (particularly USGS) are highly encouraged and USGS partnerships receive extra weight in evaluation.

2015 Priorities:

  • Evaluation of innovative approaches to water treatment, infrastructure design,  retrofitting, maintenance, management and replacement.
  • Exploration and advancement of our understanding of changes in the quantity and quality of water resources in response to a changing climate, population shifts, and land use changes; including associate economic, environmental, social, and/or infrastructure costs.
  • Development of methods for better estimation of water supply, both surface and groundwater, including estimation of the physical supply and of the economic supply of water.
  • Development and evaluation of processes and governance mechanisms for integrated surface/groundwater management.
  • Evaluation and assessment of the effects of water conservation practices, as well as adoption, penetration and permanence.

Other interesting information:

Iowa has seen some success with getting proposals in this competition funded in the past few years, most recently a project in 2014 from University of Iowa PI Dr. Gabriele Villarini.

The Iowa Water Center reviews all proposals after they have been submitted and must approve them in order for them to be considered by the selection committee. While your application SHOULD be complete at the February deadline, if there are any changes needed, IWC staff will be in touch before final approval.

Have any questions? Just send a message to Melissa Miller and we’ll get it taken care of!