Delaware River Watershed Grants to Fund 4 Projects by Drexel Researchers

A photo of scientists working in the Delaware river watershed. Photo by Arielle Webster.
Photo by Arielle Webster.

Projects dreamed up by four Drexel professors will be funded thanks to a $200,000 grant administered by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University with financial resources provided by the William Penn Foundation.

Announced Friday, four projects will receive the money through the newly-formed Drexel Watershed Consortium, with research goals that will support and complement the work being done on the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). 

According to Roland Wall, the Academy’s senior director for Environmental Initiatives, “The Drexel Watershed Consortium will add new areas of research and expertise that will be pursued within the context of the DRWI.” 

The DRWI was launched by the William Penn Foundation in 2014, with the Academy and three other partners acting as a coordinating committee for the project.  William Penn is a major philanthropic organization with a mission to improve quality of life in the Philadelphia area.

Through the protection and restoration of invaluable ecosystems in the watershed, the DRWI’s goal is to ensure adequate supplies of clean water to meet the human and natural needs of the Delaware Basin.

Late last year, Drexel faculty in the A.J. Drexel Institute for Energy and the Environment were invited to submit proposals for potential projects in the Drexel Watershed Consortium. Three of the selected proposals are headed up by faculty in the College of Engineering, while one’s primary investigator is in the Dornsife School of Public Health.

The following are the projects that were selected:

  • 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

“Since the start of the research efforts, we’ve been eager to involve Drexel faculty,” Wall noted. “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 variety of the projects selected reflect the variety of issues that are being addressed by the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. Two projects address drinking water quality in relation to run off and contamination.  Similarly, another project addresses capturing runoff by designing community gardens and wetlands in vacant lots. The last project addresses the concern of future use and function of this valuable watershed.

After the grants for Drexel’s faculty were issued, $100,000 of the earmarked funds from the William Penn Foundation remain to be granted to Drexel faculty.  A second round of funding will be announced later this year.   

Additionally, $4 million in grants for researchers outside of Drexel was announced in December. The Academy will again manage and guide those funds, provided by the William Penn Foundation. Deliberations will soon begin to determine which proposed projects will receive that money.

All of those projects will complement work already being done by a group of 50 non-profits that have already received funding for their work. The Academy’s scientists in the Patrick Center for Environmental Research have spearheaded a range of ecological and water quality monitoring and analysis. They’ve also coordinated other scientific aspects of the DRWI, including development of new watershed research.

“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.”