As we end 2021 and enter 2022, I’d like to share some lab updates… this time in the form of a short annual report! As you’ll see in the report, we’ve had a productive year and are looking forward to some new projects picking up steam over the next year. Our team has changed some over the past 2 years but we’re now a well-oiled machine and I’m thankful every day to have such great folks at the NCWQR.
The NCWQR had to say goodbye to our founder, Dr. David Baker, on Saturday. His accomplishments have been well summarized already here, and here, and here, andhere. Furthermore, a 255 page history of the lab was graciously written by Dr. Ken Baker in 2019 to help celebrate the lab’s 50th anniversary. As written to his family on Saturday, Dave Baker will forever be missed, but is also our constant inspiration to do more and always ask “I wonder if…”As long as the NCWQR continues to exist, so does the spirit of Dave Baker.
In this post, I would like to expand on this sentiment and reflect on how Dave has affected my life and will continue to do so. I joined the NCWQR 8 years ago as a research scientist to help Dave complete a few on-going projects that he started in the mid 2000s to better understand why dissolved phosphorus increased in the western Lake Erie tributaries and how to reduce those levels. It should be noted that these projects were started after Dave’s first retirement, and overlapped with his term as an interim director. Compared to most people in the lab, I’ve known Dave for a fairly short amount of time, however, I was able to interact with him closely on these projects and was lucky to see his thinking towards science and data.
Dave toed the line between being remarkably humble (he would be the first to say he didn’t have a degree in a field of water science and he didn’t have a strong statistical background) with being stalwart about the findings in the data and brave to show those data in sticky situations. He was able to analyze vast quantities of data in ways that were equally simple and yet ingenious. He was so familiar with these datasets that if other people analyzed lab data in a paper or presentation, he could tell immediately if they did something wrong without even having to look anything up. In fact, we are all a little worse off than we were before without having Dave around to apply his creative thinking to the world of water. I, for one, will miss having the opportunity to hear his thoughts on new papers or proposals, reports and guidelines to improve water quality, and his brainstorming on the next thing we should be studying.
It’s a unique type of grief I think, being in the position I’m in. I’ve essentially inherited Dave’s Water Quality Lab and while the team we have working in the lab currently along with our past director, Ken Krieger, are a wonderful support system, it somehow feels a bit more lonely without Dave. Furthermore, I am no Dave Baker. I share his enthusiasm for our work, but I don’t have his way of thinking, I have my own. The NCWQR these days is a little bit different than in past years. Much of the team that had been around for many years have retired since I joined the lab in 2013- Pete, Ken, Jack, Dave, Ellen, and Barb, and most recently, Rem started a new position with NIBIO in Norway. But when you think about the fundamentals of what we are doing to this day- how we collect samples, what we measure, and at what frequency- these are the same projects that Dave envisioned and Jack actualized in the early 1970s.
This year brings a lot of changes for the NCWQR. Ellen and Barb, our two longest term employees retired at the end of August. Their talent and dedication to the NCWQR is what made us one of the best water quality labs around! We already miss them both greatly but know that they are enjoying not having to panic during every storm.
Slideshow of Ellen and Barb from then to now
With that, I’d like to introduce our three new field & lab technicians! Taylor Fulton joined us in mid-August, Emily Clark at the beginning of September, and Kevin Jones in mid-September.
Taylor recently graduated from Kent State University with a BS in Environmental Conservation Biology and worked as an undergraduate researcher in a soil ecology lab and an ecotoxicology & biogeochemistry lab.
Emily is also a recent graduate, but from Bowling Green State University with a B.S. in Environmental Science. As an undergraduate she worked in a water chemistry lab and did an REU at U of Toledo on respiration rates of artic soils.
Kevin returned to Ohio to join the lab after a couple years of water monitoring in Florida at Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Prior to that he worked for a couple of summers in the water chemistry lab at OSU Stone Lab and was a fish observer in Alaska. He graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.S. in Chemistry and Marine Science.
All three have experiences that are a great fit for the NCWQR and we’re so happy they all decided to join our team!
And so, our new year’s resolution will be the same as every year… sample on!
What weird times we’re living in right now! I can say, up until this week, 2020 has been an especially busy year. We’ve had at least 6 storm events in the past 6 weeks, which has kept the lab very busy with lots of muddy samples. As of March 1st we officially entered the spring loading season for the Lake Erie bloom forecast, so it can stop raining any day now!
Since the last update, I’ve been to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to give a seminar and meet with our collaborators at the Water Science Laboratory (watch here). Nate gave a talk at the Great Lakes Symposium at the Toledo Zoo for an audience of a couple hundred middle and high school students from multiple Toledo-area schools. We also went to the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in Ada in early March for a talk on the 2019 results and heard lots of updates from the edge-of-field research and other agroecosystem research. I’m also happy to report that the 2019 loads are complete for each of our stations. It took a bit longer this year, in part because of the record-high number of stations we are running! Monitoring 23 stations is a big task and we’ve been doing a great job of providing high-quality data for each of these.
The Sandusky River Watershed Coalition had a great News and Brews event in February featuring Ray Grob to chat about his experiences on the Sandusky River. In addition, supplies to start stenciling storm drains have been acquired and are available for people who need volunteer activities. These were tested a couple weekends ago around Tiffin.
A big congratulations to our post-doc, Tian Guo, for starting a new position with the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory and Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering at Purdue University last week. She will be missed, but luckily in our line of work, we can continue to collaborate!
And now for the updates regarding COVID-19 and the Ohio Stay-at-Home order… You may have heard the news that the Heidelberg campus will be closed after Sunday for the rest of the semester and that all classes have moved online. Aaron and Rem will have their hands full transitioning existing content into this new platform! For the lab, we are suspending sampling at stations where the samples have to be shipped (Raisin, Cuyahoga, Great Miami, Scioto, and Muskingum) and reducing sampling frequency at the remaining stations to once per day starting on Monday, March 23. This should get us ~2-3 weeks of sampling before we’d need new bottles. We are in the Maumee loading season for predicting bloom severity, and thus will prioritize Maumee sampling as we are able. Though the order only lasts for two weeks, who knows what will happen as we move forward. We will be making decisions that prioritize the health of everyone at the NCWQR first, and then we’ll be sampling as much as we can second!
This is the start of a new series on the going-ons at the NCWQR! I hope to publish these posts monthly throughout the year to give everyone a view of what we’re up to on the 3rd floor of Gillmor Hall.
To start things off, let’s discuss last year! In 2019, our chemistry lab analyzed over 11,000 water samples for nutrients and/or sediment most of which were for the Heidelberg Tributary Loading Program (HTLP) and were collected from 25 different locations throughout Ohio and one in Michigan. Our researchers published 7 peer-reviewed articles (find them here); managed 8 different grants aside from the HTLP; presented at the International Society for Great Lakes Research, the Society for Freshwater Sciences, the Soil and Water Conservation Society, the Ecological Society of America, and the American Geophysical Union conferences; and gave over 20 presentations to various groups throughout the community. At the same time, we continued to analyze samples for private well owners, assisted in expanding the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, and mentored students both as interns and in the classroom. To wrap up 2019, we were informed that 4 grant proposals were selected for funding, ranging in topics from antibiotics in rivers to using field-scale models to help develop water quality trading markets.
One of the biggest events in 2019 was the celebration of our 50th Anniversary in October. We had a 2-day workshop which culminated in an anniversary dinner. Most exciting, the history of the NCWQR, which was written by Dr. Ken Baker, is now available online here!
This year is off to an active start! Heidelberg’s Biology and Environmental Sciences department is in the middle of a search for a new assistant professor of ecology, which has given us the opportunity to see multiple teaching demonstrations and provide feedback. We’ve attended meetings for a multitude of advisory groups including revising the NRCS 590 standard and planning water quality sampling for the Ohio DNR H2Ohio projects. Rem has been involved in a collaborative effort linking phosphorus models from soils to the world, Laura attended a workshop on linking soil and watershed health to drainage practices, and both Laura and Nate have been involved in discussions on developing a pilot watershed.
On top of all that, January has been rather warm and rainy with 4 different high flow events about perfectly timed by each week leading to high samples loads for the lab with especially muddy samples (which take longer to filter).