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And the Winners Are…

Water stargrass covering the surface of a river.
Three projects were awarded Seed Grants from the Water Research Center for 2021. Sarah Roley will study the harvesting of water stargrass, pictured above, to determine if removal can mitigate the effects of climate change on migrating salmon.

Each year, the State of Washington Water Research Center awards “Seed Grants” for research that explores new ideas to advance scientific understanding of water resources or their management in Washington state. The Center is housed at WSU but collaborates with water researchers, colleges and Universities throughout the state, nation, and world to pursue its mission. The Center administers the Seed Grant program under Section 104(b) of the Water Resources Research Act.

Three awards were announced in December 2020 for the coming year. Jonathan Yoder, Center Director and Professor in the WSU School of Economic Sciences was pleased with the quality of the grant proposals saying, “As in most years, we had a strong slate of proposals. These three proposals were very well developed and represent important issues in watershed management and the valuable ecosystem services that river systems provide. This is especially important in the context of climate change, where stream temperature,  wildfires, and associated erosion are a growing concern. We look forward to seeing the results of these exciting projects.”

The winning proposals will receive about $30,000 each. The 2021 winning projects are:

Sarah Roley, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences – Sciences. Can water stargrass harvest mitigate the effects of climate change on migrating salmon?  

Head shot of Sarah Roley
Sarah Roley

Low dissolved oxygen (DO) in the lower Yakima River in Eastern Washington is causing a problem for salmon trying to migrate upstream. A likely cause of the low nighttime DO is respiration by water stargrass (Heteranthera dubia). Stargrass is an aquatic plant native to the river but changing precipitation patterns have led to an increase in growth of the plant. Stargrass is now found bank to bank in some places on the river. Roley’s project will look at the effects of removing stargrass with a commercial harvester to reduce biomass and increase nighttime DO concentrations and assess the effect on water quality for salmon.

Burnt hillside with trees in background.
The potential for water quality issues from erosion control products on burnt hillslopes will be the focus of researchers Akin and Hohner.

Idil D. Akin, Assistant Professor and Amanda K. Hohner, Assistant Professor. Post-fire water quality effects of biopolymer and polymer stabilization of burnt Washington hillslopes.

Post-wildfire erosion has become an increasingly severe problem in Washington state due to climate change and associated increase in wildfire occurrence and severity, creating economic and environmental problems in addition to threatening human life. Erosion control is necessary after a fire. New methods involving soil additives (polyacrylamide (PAM) or novel xanthan gum (XG) treatment) can reduce erosion without sealing the soil surface completely. However, the additives may be transported into streams over time and the water quality impacts are unknown.  There could be an increase in nitrogen and phosphorus export or increases in dissolved organic carbon concentrations. Researchers will conduct experiments to measure the impacts of the soil additives on water quality at different concentrations.

David Hooper, Dept. of Biology, Western Washington University. Links between policy and riparian restoration for nutrient retention in the Nooksack River watershed. 

This project will evaluate priority opportunities for restoration in the Nooksack River watershed, which feeds into Bellingham Bay in Whatcom County. Researchers will seek links between policy and riparian restoration in two ways: 1) Graduate students Astoria Tershy and Patrick Demaree will model the potential for riparian restoration to decrease nutrient inputs to the Salish Sea via the Nooksack River; and 2) Co-researcher Amanda Stahl, a post-doc at Washington State University, will map the diversity of existing policies that apply to riparian buffers to better understand the constraints, opportunities and environmental co-benefits they provide to nutrient management. This project will provide opportunities for three early career researchers.

Woman in blue jacket in a creek with a pole.
Graduate students Astoria Tershy and Patrick Demaree will model riparian nutrient retention in the Nooksack River watershed with David Hooper and post-doc Amanda Stahl. Here, undergraduate Hailey Dearing samples streamflow in a restored reach of Schell Creek, one of their test watersheds.
About the grants

The Center funds two to three proposals annually with a cost-share requirement. Successful projects are those that:

  • increase multidisciplinary research and collaboration,
  • provide opportunities for entry level and early career researchers,
  • support graduate student thesis and dissertation research,
  • and disseminate research results to academic and non-academic audiences.

Faculty members or affiliates at institutions of higher education in Washington are eligible.

Winning projects from past years include:

  • Estimating double-cropping extent using satellite imagery
  • Do snow algae and black carbon contribute to surface albedo reduction of snow and glacier surfaces in the Nooksack River Headwaters?
  • Fate and Transport of Micro- and Nano-scale Plastics in Washington State
  • The contribution of water retention, nutrient loading and microbial community to mosquito breeding and West Nile virus transmission in Spokane County
  • Reuse of Food Processing Wastewater in Washington State.

Proposals for 2022 will be due November of 2021.

For more information visit the Seed Grants webpage or contact Jacqueline McCabe at, (509) 335-5531 or Jonathan Yoder at, (509)-335-8596.

This article appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Water Currents News. Subscribe today!