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:

Zinc's negative effects on mineral digestibility can be mitigated, study shows
Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that a common strategy for reducing postweaning digestive problems in pigs may have negative effects on calcium and phosphorus digestibility, and are suggesting management practices to counteract the effects.
Iron deficiency restrains marine microbes
Iron is a critical nutrient in the ocean. Its importance for algae and the nitrogen cycle has already been investigated in detail.
A better way to manage phosphorus?
A new project proposes a restructured index to build on phosphorus management efforts in farm fields in New York state and beyond.
Nitrogen, phosphorus from fertilizers and pet waste polluting urban water
New research from the University of Minnesota points to lawn fertilizers and pet waste as the dominant sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants in seven sub-watersheds of the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, Minn.
Study quantifies effect of 'legacy phosphorus' in reduced water quality
For decades, phosphorous has accumulated in Wisconsin soils. Though farmers have taken steps to reduce the quantity of the agricultural nutrient applied to and running off their fields, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals that a 'legacy' of abundant soil phosphorus in the Yahara watershed of Southern Wisconsin has a large, direct and long-lasting impact on water quality.
Increased water availability from climate change may release more nutrients into soil in Antarctica
As climate change continues to impact the Antarctic, glacier melt and permafrost thaw are likely to make more liquid water available to soil and aquatic ecosystems in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, potentially providing a more nutrient-rich environment for life, according to a Dartmouth study recently published in Antarctic Science.
UD's Jaisi wins NSF Career Award for research on phosphorus in soil
Much like criminal forensic scientists use fingerprints to identify guilty parties at crime scenes, the University of Delaware's Deb Jaisi utilizes isotopic fingerprinting technology to locate the sources of phosphorus compounds and studies the degraded products they leave behind in soil and water.
Wastewater research may help protect aquatic life
New wastewater system design guidelines developed at UBC can help municipal governments better protect aquatic life and save millions of dollars a year.
Safe fog
Safety combined with power and effectiveness is one of the most important targets in the development of pyrotechnic obscurants.
How your diet can influence your environmental impact
The impact of our dietary choices on the global phosphorus footprint shouldn't be neglected, shows a new study.

Related Phosphorus Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...