Research under way to find best way to reduce reservoir pollution

Researchers from Cornell University have been granted almost US$1 million to find the best ways to reduce the polluting impact of phosphorous at one of New York City's largest reservoirs.

The Cannonsville watershed in the Catskills region of New York State is under attack from phosphorous run-off from urban and rural sources. It is the third largest reservoir in New York City’s water supply system.

Excessive phosphorous run-off not only threatens the quality of the City’s drinking water but also has led to wastewater discharge restrictions in the Cannonsville area that could limit development in local communities.

To identify best practice to reduce this problem, two researchers from Cornell will compile a database of many recommendations and evaluate combinations of best management practice (BMPs).

“Using modelling to evaluate phosphorous transport in watersheds, statistical inference and extensive sources of data, which detail farm, field, date, cost and type of each BMP implemented in the watershed since the 1990s, we will quantify the effectiveness of BMPs in New York and the Northeast,” said Tammo Steenhuis, professor of biological and environmental engineering, a co-investigator on the project.

“Then we will rank the BMPs and develop methods that can be used to incorporate the most cost-effective BMPs in whole farm plans,” added Christine Shoemaker, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the other co-investigator.

Because the Cannonsville watershed reflects the distinctive topographic and hydrologic characteristics of water sheds throughout the Northeast, the work will be applicable not only to New York City watershed, but also to the watersheds of Lake Champlain, Skaneatles Lake and the Chesapeake Bay.

Both researchers have been working in the Cannonsville watershed and between them have expertise in hydrology, water-quality modelling, statistical analysis, field experimentation, environmental systems analysis, optimisation and economics.

Their research will also be applicable to the watersheds of Lake Champlain, Skaneatles Lake and the Chesapeake Bay. The work is likely to take around three years to complete.

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