BLOOMSBURG— Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is partnering with Chesapeake Conservancy to restore the health of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. Dr. Steven Rier, professor of biological and allied health sciences, is representing BU in the three-year project named “Precision Conservation.”
“Precision Conservation,” funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, is aiming to restore the ecological health of the Susquehanna River, a main contributor to the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna River dumps approximately 20 billion gallons of fresh water into the bay every day. Much of this freshwater contains excess nitrogen and phosphorus sediment that is disrupting the ecosystem of the bay.
Chesapeake Conservancy has determined that agriculture within the Susquehanna River watershed is responsible for much of the excess sediment and nutrients entering the bay. The goal of the project is to build riparian buffers, rows of trees and shrubs, along bare streams exposed to agricultural sites. Using high-resolution technology and satellite images, Chesapeake Conservancy can determine where to place these buffers efficiently.
“Until now, people recognized the importance of buffers but there was no consistent strategy for prioritizing the placement of individual projects,” says Dr. Rier. “`Precision Conservation` allows for a more precise way to pinpoint where you can get the most value regarding stream restoration.”
BU has taken on the role of analyzing water chemistry and ecosystem functions like metabolic activity and nutrient uptake of the local streams and tributaries connecting to the Susquehanna River. Rier, with the help of biology graduate students Jennifer Tuomisto (Northumberland, Pa.) and Corey Conville (Pottsville, Pa.), and biology undergraduate senior Aaron Gordon-Weaver (Palmyra, Pa.), collects water from tributaries and streams that are deemed as high priority areas by “Precision Conservation” technologies. Dr. Rier and his students are then responsible for measuring how much excess sediment is coming into the stream and ultimately determining if the buffers are working in restoring the stream’s health.
“Precision Conservation” is not just improving the water quality of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. It is improving the waterways’ ecosystem as a whole and benefitting landowners who allow buffers to be built on their property. The riparian buffers built during this project could potentially improve recreational fishing and hunting, improve the aesthetics of landowners’ properties, maintain health of farmer’s livestock and maximize farmer’s crop production.
“Precision Conservation” is also providing experiential learning to BU students. Grants from the project are supporting BU’s biology graduate students, covering many research costs and providing valuable research experience that will benefit them after BU.
The project is piloting in Centre and Clinton counties with plans to be a statewide in the near future. BU’s current restoration sites can be found along streams and tributaries connecting to Pine Creek and Elk Creek in Centre County.
Additional project partners in “Precision Conservation” include Susquehanna University, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Program, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 9,600 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Education, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.