News and Highlights
September 15, 2017
As the iUTAH project comes to a close, researchers are summarizing methodology and findings as it applies to other water-related research. The September issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) features two in-depth reviews of the mountain urban water system in Utah, specifically, iUTAH design, implementation, and maintenance of sensor equipment, data and metadata produced by the water science project.
The first paper, “Designing and Implementing a Network for Sensing Water Quality and Hydrology across Mountain to Urban Transitions” discusses the logistics of developing and maintaining the Gradients Along Mountain to Urban Transitions (GAMUT) network. The article described the practices followed, as well as insights and findings during the installation and operation of GAMUT. Early on, the research team focused on openly publishing data to drive further science. The research teams “worked to balance scientific needs with physical site limitations, communication constraints, public engagement goals, site security, and partnership potential.” Once the groundwork was laid for the project, additional enhancements focused on quality assurance and system controls to manage and communicate the numerous large datasets produced. The paper finds that GAMUT the "is underlying infrastructure that serves as a vehicle for other research endeavors, ” and instills confidence in consistent long-term data output which secondary users might find helpful after applying their own assessments.
The second paper, “Data Management Dimensions of Social Water Science: The iUTAH Experience” focuses more specifically on integrating a social science framework into the project. It reinforces the first article’s discussion of planning and policy needs, as it explores the open science, data sharing, and the human aspect of Utah’s water system. The study recommends classifying social water science data according to the dimensions of human subject data, primary vs. secondary data, and data restrictions to reveal opportunities and reduce barriers for data sharing. Furthermore, the article concludes by saying that “by facilitating innovative approaches to managing a diverse portfolio of data, the iUTAH program has furthered understanding of a mountain urban water system and provided opportunities for data integration across water sciences and between science and society.”
Full study of each article available below:
Designing and Implementing a Network for Sensing Water Quality and Hydrology across Mountain to Urban Transitions
Authors: Amber Spackman Jones, Zachary T. Aanderud, Jeffery S. Horsburgh, David P. Eiriksson, Dylan Dastrup, Christopher Cox, Scott B. Jones, David R. Bowling, Jonathan Carlisle, Gregory T. Carling, and Michelle A. Baker
August 28, 2017
In June, Utah Water Watch (UWW), a Utah State University Water Quality Extension program, said goodbye to co-coordinator Eli Robinson. While working for Utah Water Watch, Eli spearheaded UWW’s Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) program. This program has been successful in working with citizen monitors to assist the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Quality in catching HABs before they release toxins and cause potential harm to people and animals. The UWW community will miss Eli’s organizational expertise, sense of humor, and creativity, and wishes him well in the future.
With this change, Cade Andrus has joined UWW as the new co-coordinator. He is a 2017 graduate of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU and has a degree in environmental studies along with a strong interest in sustainable development. While in this new position, he hopes to reach a broader audience for water quality education and citizen monitoring. Cade’s diverse background will bring new insights and ideas to the program.
In order to continue supporting and growing programs, UWW has added additional staff this season, including USU students Jose Pacheco, a senior in conservation and restoration ecology, and Hannah Johnson and Cole Patton, who are both incoming freshman and Quinney scholars studying conservation and restoration ecology.
UWW co-coordinator Ellen Bailey, based in Salt Lake City, works with watershed partners to develop advanced monitoring (Tier 2) volunteers in assisting with state monitoring needs, especially in measuring the effectiveness of projects to improve water quality. In her presentation this past July at the iUTAH Symposium, she shared the following numbers on the program’s successes since 2012:
103 training events
1,025 volunteers trained
250 sites monitored overall in Utah
UWW maintains an active citizen science group supporting water stewardship in the state of Utah, including 100 active volunteers this year with 23 specializing in Tier 2 monitoring, and is a program that iUTAH is proud to partner with and support.
August 25, 2017
The final iUTAH Annual Symposium and Summer All-Hands meeting was held over two-days, July 13 -14, on the campus of Utah State University in Logan UT. It was a time for reflection, sharing of successes and outcomes, and celebrating five years of collaborative research, training, education, and outreach for Utah’s water future.
Thank you to all the iUTAH EPSCoR collaborators, partners, and friends who joined us as presenters, participants, and celebrants. For those of you that could not be in attendance, we wanted to fill you in on what you missed, along with personal reflections and comments from invited speakers.
Over 120 researchers and educators from universities, municipalities, and governmental agencies, including industry partners and non-profit organizations, came together on the first day to discuss successful water science programs conducted across the state. iUTAH team leaders talked about critical outcomes and lasting impacts in research on water quality and quantity, social and engineered water systems, and modeling and forecasting of future water supply and demand in the state. These updates were followed by short personal experience stories from five active participants whose research or career paths were altered by involvement in the iUTAH project.
Lunch was held in the company of this summer’s iFellow undergraduate researchers who presented posters of their research and answered questions about what they learned. The symposium concluded with 40 talks in seven concurrent sessions on a broad spectrum of topics. It was exciting to hear about the many ways that iUTAH research, education, and outreach has reached the lives of Utahns across the state.
Friday’s all-hands meeting provided a half-day forum for reflection and celebration. Talks from our three invited speakers kicked off with the Head of NSF EPSCoR, Denise Barnes. She listed the project’s many accomplishments, including GAMUT, career catalyst, personal transformations, collaborative capacity, meaningful relationships with state and municipal agencies, and the surveys and social science data— all key components that have been achieved over five years, and are so valuable to Utah. She “encourages the iUTAH team to keep the collaborative momentum going, and continue to build on the project's success,” and closed by saying “you make NSF EPSCoR look good.”
Next, Tami Pyfer, Education Advisor for the Utah Governor’s Office reflected on her experiences growing up with her dad, a Range Scientist and USU alumnus, including research trips to Ekalaka, MT. Pyfer reflected on our project by saying:
“Governor Herbert continually highlights the need to ‘unite and focus’ our efforts to solve problems and improve the lives of the citizens of Utah. The iUTAH project is a perfect example of what can happen when we truly unite and focus on important issues. It exemplifies the collaboration that is happening between education, government and community organizations, as well as the innovation happening within these entities. As a state we are moving more and more toward evidence-based policy making - which is a good thing - and the work of the iUTAH project provides great information and resources that can be used by local and state policymakers.”
The third speaker of the day was Tamara Goetz, Executive Director of the UTAH STEM Action Center, who started her keynote address with a little history, noting that:
"The iUTAH project has been a fun story to watch unfold. When we first found out that we were qualified to become an EPSCoR state, it was met with mixed emotions. There were some who saw it as an opportunity to secure funding for which there were fewer competitors. However, there were others who were dismayed. They felt that it highlighted our inability to secure federal funding and labeled us as a low performing state. Fortunately the desire to collaborate to address a critical issue, such as water management, in our state prevailed. This positive, "can do" attitude is what has made the iUTAH project a success."
Goetz added that:
"I have been impressed with the iUTAH team and their desire to look beyond research and data generation. They made a commitment to look "outward" and engage a larger stakeholder group in the conversation. They brought the issues to the community, creating dialogue around water use and sustainability, through public perceptions studies and public exhibits such as the one at The Leonardo. They were self-reflective and acknowledged that they needed to improve their own public communication skills and worked with groups like the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science to help researchers do a better job of communicating the value of their work to those that were not directly involved in research."
iUTAH Project Director Michelle Baker challenged everyone in the room to keep the ball rolling, with regards to collaborations and involvement. While the iUTAH project office will no longer host regular All-Hands meetings, she said that we should take every opportunity to organize iUTAH gatherings associated with other events in the state. Two upcoming examples mentioned were the Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium and Weber State University’s Intermountain Sustainability Summit. This message was further reinforced by a pre-recorded video message from university administrators from across the state, prior to the awards and recognition portion of the morning.
In closing, the iUTAH EPSCoR project has been approved for a one-year no cost extension, through July 2018, and looks forward to connecting with each of you and continuing our valuable research, education, training, and outreach collaborations in the coming year. Our website and newsletters will continue to be updated with achievements, happenings, opportunities, and events of interest to our collaborators. We welcome you to stay in touch and continue to let us know what you are doing.
August 16, 2017
In a recent paper published in Environmental Science & Technology, iUTAH researchers examined the mountain-to-urban transition in Utah watersheds, specifically Red Butte Creek, to identify mechanisms by which urbanization impacts water quality. The article, published on July 21, 2017, found that urban-driven changes in water quality plays a significant role in urban degradation of surface water quality. After the sample analysis discussions, findings point to challenges of current water quality management and restoration efforts based on the use of popular stormwater management strategies in urban settings. Authors of the article include Rachel S. Gabor, Steven J. Hall, David P. Eiriksson, Yusuf Jameel, Mallory Millington, Trinity Stout, Michelle L. Barnes, Andrew Gelderloos, Hyrum Tennant, Gabriel J. Bowen, Bethany T. Neilson, and Paul D. Brooks.
The article can be viewed under the title “Persistent Urban Influence on Surface Water Quality via Impacted Groundwater.”
August 11, 2017
Middle school students and teachers from across the state were the first to see and learn about benefits of green roof construction in urban spaces through a new interactive display on the Utah State University Logan campus. Participants were part of the USU STARS! GEAR UP program, a combined effort of the Colleges of Engineering and Education at USU.
The display, located front of the Quinney College of Natural Resources, measures water runoff from traditional asphalt shingles verses green roof materials. In addition its visual appeal, the green roof portion is covered with a variety of living plants that slow down and cleanse the water runoff during storms. The side-by-side example allows students to see and count water amounts measured as they are coming off each roof. During a simulated rainstorm, the green roof reduced the amount of water running off to a surprising degree.
USU undergraduate student McKenna Drew said that development of the project came out of her experience working with Nancy Mesner, professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and an Extension Specialist in Water Quality Extension at USU.
Drew said that while “teaching students and educators about ways that they could engage in monitoring water bodies throughout the state of Utah, she saw how effective hands-on activities were for learning.”
“I saw an opportunity to implement this type of learning on campus,” said Drew. “As a Landscape Architecture student, I thought that a green roof demonstration would be a great start to the potential of many more hands-on learning and research opportunities on USU’s main campus,” adding that “I have always had a big interest in green infrastructure and storm water management.”
Drew was assisted in her project by USU faculty mentors, Nancy Mesner, Bo Yang, an associate professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and Mark Brunson, professor in the Department of Environment & Society and iUTAH Education, Outreach and Diversity director, as well as many others. She graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, and now works for the Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City, UT.
The project was supported financially by iUTAH, a water research and education program funded by the National Science Foundation. The iUTAH project supports green infrastructure education programs on the University of Utah and Southern Utah University campuses, as well as at USU. They have partnered with groups such as Utah Water Watch on this project, and other education outreach signage to strengthen and promote an inclusive, diverse, water-wise community in Utah.
“My hope is that instructors on campus, and throughout Cache Valley, will not shy away from utilizing the display as a teaching opportunity and that people can see how easy it is to implement green infrastructure,” said Drew. “I also hope that this project is a start to seeing more research displayed and monitored on campus, and am thrilled with the result of the display, thanks to the efforts of facilities, colleagues, mentors, and friends."
August 9, 2017
iUTAH researchers Erin Jones and Scott Collins, along with associate professor Zachary Aanderud and GAMUT technician, Dylan Dastrup, have been in the news recently in connection with their research of Utah Lake’s algae phenomenon. Here’s what the research team and state agencies had to say to reporter Anna Bryner, in an excerpt from the August 3 article in Brigham Young University’s The Daily Universe:
“‘Once isolated, we can put (the cyanobacteria) in controlled environments and manipulate just a few variables at a time to really establish the values for which the bacteria respond by either growing exponentially or producing toxins,’ Jones said.
The team will also analyze the nutrient levels of the varying forms of phosphorous and nitrogen in the lake. ‘We’ll be able to see what factors correlate with the algal growth for the different species that we find from sequencing,’ said Jones. ‘By (taking samples) weekly, we hope to be able to catch conditions leading up to blooms, which is where the environmental triggers actually occur.’
The researchers have also been collecting extra samples to send to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, where the samples are analyzed to provide information to the public. ‘They’re a real big help for us because we don’t have the resources to go down there on a weekly basis,’ said Ben Holcomb, environmental scientist for the Utah Division of Water Quality.
According to Jones, collecting an extra sample for the department is ‘not really much of a sacrifice.’ ‘They’re spread pretty thin, so we’re happy to do what we can to help contribute to the public health awareness that the cyanobacteria represent,’ Jones said.
As part of the collaboration, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality provides data to the researchers about the analysis of the samples. ‘It saves us a little bit of money and time by them being able to provide that analysis for us,’ Jones said. According to Holcomb, the benefits are mutual. ‘We’re kind of complimenting each other on our needs, so it’s been a really helpful process,’ Holcomb said.
According to Donna Spangler, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality communications director, algal blooms are naturally occurring. The conditions that cause blooms to spread include sunlight, heat, stagnant water and an excess of nutrients. ‘Under certain environmental conditions … (algal bloom) certainly has a tendency to spread,’ she said.”
Read the full article below for more details on how the iUTAH/BYU research team and state agencies are working together to help protect public health.