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Land Risk Management Research

Watersheds/Green Infrastructure

Introduction

Land and water are interconnected. Pollutants in aquatic ecosystems are often a result of adjacent land use. Thus, EPA land research involves both land and water ecosystems. There is a strong focus of land research on sustaining the functionality and integrity of ecosystems. This helps to protect and restore ecosystem services needed for sustainable communities.

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. Within a watershed, all living things (including human communities) are linked by a common water source. The characteristics of a watershed make it a logical unit of environmental study. Green infrastructure techniques are among the tools used to minimize water runoff and its associated contaminants into water ecosystems and to restore the natural hydrology of watersheds.

Environmental Issue or Problem

One of the most important services that ecosystems provide to communities and their inhabitants is usable water. Studying the interaction between land use and water quality at the watershed scale is a useful way to preserve these essential ecosystem services. Managed properly, green infrastructure applications and technological approaches can reduce, capture, and treat stormwater runoff at its source before it can reach the sewer system. This green approach can maintain or restore the natural hydrology within a watershed by using site-specific practices such as green roofs, downspout disconnections, rain harvesting, rain gardens, planter boxes, and permeable pavement designed to mimic natural hydrologic functions and decrease the amount of impervious area and stormwater runoff from individual sites. Green infrastructure applications and designs can also be applied in neighborhood settings (“green streets”) or at larger regional scales (e.g., riparian buffers and urban forestry) to manage stormwater.

Research Approach

A common management goal consistent with the Clean Water Act for all aquatic systems and watersheds is to maintain their integrity by protecting them against degradation of habitat, loss of system function, and reduced biodiversity. Land researchers provide information and tools to environmental managers that enable them to assess the condition of aquatic resources, diagnose the causes of impairment, forecast effects of stressors, and develop and implement remediation and maintenance strategies.

Land risk management scientists focus on research that provides risk and environmental managers information they can use to protect the integrity of the nation's waters through the development of water quality criteria. This research should be helpful in management of watersheds, including addressing issues that impact load allocations and water quantity (e.g., managing pollutant loadings and water quality in watersheds). Land research on watersheds also deals with the control of environmental contaminants though our built infrastructure to manage and treat wastewaters, stormwater flows, and residuals.

Partners

  • EPA: Office of Water; National Exposure Research Laboratory; National Center for Environmental Assessment; National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory; EPA Regions 3, 5, 7, and 9
  • State Agencies: Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Ohio EPA
  • Other Federal Agencies: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
  • Academia: Purdue University, University of Cincinnati, Clemson University, Colorado State University, University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Iowa State University
  • Business: Battelle, Tetra Tech, The National Lime Association, N-Viro, Pegasus Technical Services, EnviroScience, PhycoTech
  • Other: The Water Environment Federation; The Water Environment Research Foundation; Fairfield, Ohio, Waste Water Treatment Plant; District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority; Ohio River Sanitation Commission; East Bay Municipal Utilities Division; Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; Cincinnati Metropolitan Sanitation District; Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District; Cincinnati Parks

Projects

Projects in this area of land research include cutting-edge research in the area of land management, including watershed and green infrastructure research, and remediation of land and wetlands. EPA land researchers are leading a number of studies to help regions and communities to choose land-use options that preserve and restore usable water resources.

Researchers used an alternative futures approach (AFA) to produce maps using Geographical Information System (GIS) technology and ecosystem data. The maps were shown to a community next to the Great Salt Lake (in Utah). The maps revealed the community’s future landscapes if they stayed on their current land-use path or chose a more sustainable one. AFA showed the effects of different paths of development on services that a wetlands ecosystem provides, such as removal of excess nitrogen and promoting diverse bird wildlife.

Sustainable watershed management research incorporates green infrastructure land-use techniques (e.g., rain gardens, cisterns, and riparian zone restoration) into community development in existing communities like Shepherd Creek and ones being built in Lick Run (in Cincinnati, Ohio).

EPA land researchers are working with Region 7 and the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force to develop strategies for using constructed wetlands to reduce transport of nutrient, such as nitrogen to water resources within the Mississippi River basin.

Selected Publications

Davis-Hoover, W.J. (2011). “Enumeration of Bacteria From Landfill Bioreactor Leachates by Using Culture-Dependent and Culture-Independent Molecular Methods.” Waste Management, Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY.

Hantush, M.M., L. Kalin, and R. Govindaraju. (2011). “Subsurface and Surface Water Flow Interactions.” Chapter 9 in Groundwater Quantity and Quality Management. Edited by M.M. Aral and S. Taylor. American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA.

Wesley A.K., J.P. Schubauer-Berigan, and C.B. Craft. (2011). “Effects of Five Years of Nitrogen and Phosphorus Additions on a Zizaniopsis miliacea Tidal Freshwater Marsh.” Aquatic Botany, 95: 17–23.

Alternative Futures Analysis of Farmington Bay Wetlands in the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem (EPA/600/R-10/032) March 2010

Contact

Roger Yeardley, Technology Transfer Specialist
513-569-7548
U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Land Remediation and Pollution Control Division
26 W. Martin Luther King Dr.
Mail Code: 190
Cincinnati, OH 45268

Risk Mangement Research | Air and Climate Change Research | Water Research | Ecosystems Restoration Research | Land Risk Management Research | Technology: Sustainable Technologies Research, Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETV), and Technology Assessments

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