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April 10, 2016

Drexel researchers selected to lead Delaware River Watershed projects

Grants support conservation and public health efforts through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative

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041016_DelawareRiverWatershed Source/Delaware River Watershed Initiative

The Delaware River Watershed Initiative, led by the William Penn Foundation and the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, encompasses more than 50 nonprofits engaged in public health and conservation efforts.

Four researchers at Drexel University have been designated to receive project funding for the newly created Drexel Watershed Consortium, an extension of the William Penn Foundation's Delaware River Watershed Initiative to protect local ecosystems and harness their power to improve quality of life in Philadelphia.

The funds come in the form of a $200,000 grant to be administered by the Academy of Natural Sciences, which along with the DRWI prioritizes projects that focus on both the resiliency of natural ecosystems and the public health implications of resource management.

As national concerns persist over the safety of U.S. drinking water, the DRWI brings together more than 50 environmental nonprofits and public and private partners to monitor conditions in the watershed that spans 13,500 square miles across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. Not only do its streams and rivers serve as habitats for a diverse collection of wildlife, they also provide drinking water to more than 15 million people and support $25 billion in water-related economic enterprises.

“Since the start of the research efforts, we’ve been eager to involve Drexel faculty,” said Roland Wall, senior director of Environmental Initiatives at the Academy of Natural Sciences. “This gives us the opportunity — not only to support and apply new research — but also to include Drexel faculty as partners in the ongoing work of the DRWI.”

The research and conservation goals of the DRWI, kick-started by a $35 million commitment from the William Penn Foundation, include reducing agricultural runoff and urban stormwater in areas of compromised water quality, examining the effects of climate change on the Delaware Basin and protecting headwaters, forests and groundwater reserves where water quality is high.

The four projects selected at Drexel draw expertise from the university's College of Engineering and the Dornsife School of Public Health.

• Anneclaire DeRoos, PhD, associate professor in the School of Public Health, will receive $60,000 over three years to study the correlation between water use after heavy storms and gastrointestinal sickness due to the contamination of water sources from wastewater treatment plant overflow in heavy precipitation events.

• Eugenia Ellis, PhD, associate professor in the College of Engineering, will get $30,000 for a year to study the use of some of Philadelphia’s 40,000-plus vacant lots for stormwater management via the creation of wetlands or organic farms to cut down local food insecurity.

• Mira Olson, PhD, associate professor in the College of Engineering, will receive $50,000 over two years to use modeling techniques to study the functions of Delaware Basin rivers in the hopes of predicting changes to them and what stressors threaten them.

• Christopher Sales, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, will get $60,000 for a two year effort to create a “library” of microbe genomes to potentially track the source of microbial contamination in rivers and other bodies of water.

Even after these funds are dispersed, another $100,000 has been earmarked for Drexel faculty from the William Penn Foundation, whose partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences, launched in December, includes a total of $4 million in grants outside Drexel.

“Research funds are part of a larger strategy to build capacity and knowledge for protecting one of our most valuable natural resources,” Wall said. “The work of the Consortium will be especially valuable in opening new topics for investigation.”