For the second year in a row, Lincoln College has been awarded an environmental grant from Illinois American Water. The College was awarded a $2,714 grant, as well as an in-kind donation of water testing through Illinois American Water’s certified lab in Belleville, valued at over $3,000. The combined value of the grant and in-kind contribution makes the Lincoln College grant the largest of the 10 grants awarded.
A check presentation was held Monday, May 20, at the Campbell Creekside Outdoor Center for Environmental Education at Lincoln College.
The grant will be used for student research to quantify agricultural runoff along eroded farmland and study the impact of native planting, using Lincoln College’s Creekside Center as the test site.
This funding is an integral part of Lincoln College’s growing initiatives to increase access to research-based information in order to help improve local water quality and soil health through nutrient management planning of local agricultural land.
“This grant promotes the practical, hands-on learning that we emphasize in the Conservation Biology program. It is a natural extension of the job shadowing that Illinois American Water allowed our students to take part in last fall. We really appreciate what a great partner the company has been for Lincoln College,” Dr. Julia Ossler, Lead Faculty for the Conservation Biology program at Lincoln College, said.
Following the 2018 Solutions for Soil Workshop, Lincoln College’s community partner Cardno offered a range of recommendations and examples of ways to mitigate noticeable soil erosion along an active agricultural field within Creekside, including the use of cover crops.
Cover crops offer a range of benefits to soil and are demonstrated to be effective in lowering the regular buildup of natural trace contaminates that can occur following continued application of fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural fields. As a “trap crop”, these plants can store nutrients from underutilized fertilizer until the following years’ crop are planted, reducing nutrient runoff and subsurface runoff into nearby water ways. Mitigating fertilizer runoff is an integral part of any soil management system, helping improve not only local water quality but also ensuring the sustained long-term health of local soils, in turn promoting healthy crop yields.
The first cohort of Conservation Biology majors will be graduating in Spring 2020 and one of the final components of their course work is a senior research project. The grant funding made will be used to install water testing stations within agricultural land at the Creekside Outdoor Center to quantify baseline estimates of annual fertilizer and pesticide runoff and to study the impact of native cover crop planting to mitigate nutrient runoff.
Data collected within Creekside will be open sourced and used by seniors in the conservation biology major as a part of their independent research projects. Student findings will be presented at a public research symposium this Fall in order to demonstrate the level of impact the process has on increasing soil health and water quality.
Ossler said students at all levels in the Conservation Biology program will be actively involved in the project, collecting water samples, learning about the underlying chemistry of water testing, developing protocols for proper water collection, and investigating ways to assess soil, plant, and aquatic fauna health to better assess the impact of the changes.
“This grant promotes the practical, hands-on learning that we emphasize in the Conservation Biology program. It is a natural extension of the job shadowing that Illinois American Water has allowed our students to take part in last fall. We really appreciate what a great partner the company has been for Lincoln College,” Dr. Ossler added.
These grants remind consumers of the vital, daily need to protect water resources for future generations, and are awarded to community projects that improve, restore or protect watersheds, according to Illinois American Water.
Gabe Bowden, operations superintendent for Illinois American Water’s Lincoln District said, “At Illinois American Water, Earth Day is every day. Our team works hard to not only provide clean water for life, but to support the communities we serve. Our Environmental Grant program is critical to our efforts to ensure safe water today and for future generations.”
Since 2009, Illinois American Water has contributed over $222,000 to 66 projects dedicated to water protection in Illinois. This year a total of $24,952 in grant funds were awarded to 10 projects. Other projects included:
Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow, Inc. in Peoria – $2,900;
The Bolingbrook Park District – $5,000;
Friends of the Fox River (FOFR) – $4,000;
Friends of the Rock River – $3,000;
Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful in South Beloit – $1,500;
The Peoria Park District – $810;
Rolling Meadows High School – $2,000;
The University of St. Francis at Joliet – $228;
The Urbana Park District – $2,800.