Nav: Home

U-M researchers to study Detroit River phosphorus, impacts of green infrastructure

September 16, 2015

ANN ARBOR--Researchers at the University of Michigan have been awarded a three-year, $3 million grant from the Erb Family Foundation to determine the Detroit River's contributions to algae blooms that plague Lake Erie each summer.

The grant to the U-M Water Center will also allow scientists to measure the effectiveness of "green infrastructure" projects in Detroit designed to manage stormwater overflows, which can send algae-promoting phosphorus into the Detroit River and western Lake Erie during large storms.

"This grant to the Water Center continues the Erb family's long history of support for sustainability initiatives, Great Lakes health and the University of Michigan," said U-M Provost Martha Pollack. "The knowledge gained from this project, in particular, will help promote the environmental health of Detroit. The University of Michigan and the Erb Family Foundation share a deeply rooted and unshakable commitment to that long-term goal."

Toxin-forming algae blooms have become an annual problem in Lake Erie. In August 2014, microcystin toxins shut down the drinking water supply to more than 400,000 Toledo-area residents for a weekend, and this year's toxic bloom has been particularly large.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that stimulates algae growth. Most of the efforts to control Lake Erie's algae problem have focused on reducing the levels of phosphorus-containing crop fertilizers that enter western Lake Erie from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed.

But the Detroit River carries about 80 percent of the water that enters Lake Erie and contributes an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the phosphorus in the lake's western basin, according to a 2014 report from the International Joint Commission.

The IJC report identified a need to evaluate the "uncertainty surrounding the contribution" of the Detroit River to phosphorus loads in Lake Erie. The commission also identified the lack of continuous monitoring of phosphorus levels at the mouth of the Detroit River as a knowledge gap.

To help fill that knowledge gap, U-M researchers will use computer models that simulate hydrology and water quality in the Detroit River watershed to calculate the contributions of various upstream phosphorus sources, both urban and agricultural.

"Once the dynamics of the Detroit River watershed are better understood, relevant policy options can be developed and targeted to address specific phosphorus sources," said U-M aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and principal investigator of the new Erb-funded project.

"The binational policy and management community, including regional NGOs and watershed decision makers, will have a clear understanding of the relative contributions of agricultural and urban sources to Lake Erie nutrient loading," said Jennifer Read, director of the U-M Water Center and project manager of the new initiative. The Water Center is part of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Urban contributions to Detroit River phosphorus include surges of stormwater during events called combined sewer overflows. A CSO occurs when the flow in combined sewers, which carry both surface runoff and sewage, exceeds the capacity of a city's wastewater treatment plant. When that occurs, some of the combined stormwater and sewage is discharged untreated into an adjacent water body.

In Detroit, several efforts to use so-called green infrastructure to help manage stormwater and reduce CSOs are underway. Green infrastructure uses vegetation and soils to soak up and store stormwater.

U-M landscape architect Joan Nassauer, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, leads a pilot project to design and build new forms of green infrastructure on vacant properties in Detroit's far-west-side Cody Rouge neighborhood. Four "bioretention gardens" that capture and hold stormwater are under construction now on sites where abandoned Cody Rouge homes were razed.

The current project is funded by the U-M Water Center and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in partnership with the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Collaborators include the Cody Rouge Action Alliance and the Warrendale Neighborhood Organization.

The new Erb grant will allow Nassauer's interdisciplinary team to assess the performance of the bioretention gardens over time, to monitor the acceptance and understanding of those structures by neighborhood residents, and to develop new green infrastructure design concepts tailored specifically for use in Cody Rouge. The neighborhood is in the watershed of the Rouge River, which flows into the Detroit River, which empties into western Lake Erie.

"Plans to adopt green infrastructure as a fundamental component of Detroit's stormwater management system are well under way," Nassauer said. "However, decision makers and stakeholders see the need for greater knowledge about how these systems will perform.

"This grant will enable us to make the essential measurements of green infrastructure performance over time and to use what we learn to help new forms of GI perform even better."

The new $2,994,000 grant is the latest in a series of partnerships between U-M and the Erb family on environmental and sustainability initiatives.

In 2012, a $4.5 million grant from the Erb Family Foundation helped establish the university's Water Center. Some of that funding helped launch Nassauer's Cody Rouge project.

In 1996, an endowment gift of $5 million established the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at U-M, a joint venture between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and SNRE. The Erb gift, eventually totaling $20 million, represented the largest known commitment to a university for interdisciplinary teaching and research in the area of global sustainable enterprise.

"The U-M Water Center has demonstrated a policy-relevant, user-oriented approach to scientific research that is rare in academia," said John Erb, president of the Bloomfield Hills-based Erb Family Foundation. "We are pleased that our new grant will help fill key science gaps related to algal blooms in Lake Erie and the social and ecological impacts of green infrastructure in residential urban neighborhoods."
The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation's mission is to nurture environmentally healthy and culturally vibrant communities in metro Detroit and support initiatives to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. The foundation is focused on improving water quality, especially in the watersheds impacting metropolitan Detroit and Bayfield, Ontario; promoting environmental health, justice and equitable development; and supporting the arts as a means to strengthen the metropolitan Detroit region.

U-M Water Center
Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation

University of Michigan

Related Phosphorus Articles:

Graphene heterostructures with black phosphorus, arsenic enable new infrared detectors
MIPT scientists and their colleagues from Japan and the U.S.
Recovering phosphorus from corn ethanol production can help reduce groundwater pollution
Dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS), a co-product from corn ethanol processing, is commonly used as feed for cattle, swine and poultry.
Chemists have managed to stabilize the 'capricious' phosphorus
An international team of Russian, Swedish and Ukrainian scientists has identified an effective strategy to improve the stability of two-dimensional black phosphorus, which is a promising material for use in optoelectronics.
Life could have emerged from lakes with high phosphorus
Life as we know it requires phosphorus, and lots of it.
Reassessing strategies to reduce phosphorus levels in the Detroit river watershed
In an effort to control the cyanobacteria blooms and dead zones that plague Lake Erie each summer, fueled by excess nutrients, the United States and Canada in 2016 called for a 40% reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake's western and central basins, including the Detroit River's contribution.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: The future of phosphorus
Societies celebrate the discovery of this important element in 1669.
Lack of reporting on phosphorus supply chain dangerous for global food security
A new study from Stockholm University and University of Iceland shows that while Phosphorus is a key element to global food security, its supply chain is a black box.
Hydrogenation of white phosphorus leads way to safer chemical technology
White phosphorus is well-known for being a highly toxic compound with suffocating scent.
Rice cultivation: Balance of phosphorus and nitrogen determines growth and yield
Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences CEPLAS at the University of Cologne cooperates with partners from Beijing to develop new basic knowledge on nutrient signalling pathways in rice plants.
Ammonia by phosphorus catalysis
More than 100 years after the introduction of the Haber-Bosch process, scientists continue to search for alternative ammonia production routes that are less energy demanding.
More Phosphorus News and Phosphorus Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.