Bloomsburg University is partnering with Chesapeake Conservancy on river health

BLOOMSBURG — Bloomsburg University is partnering with Chesapeake Conservancy to restore the health of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Dr. Steven Rier, professor of biological and allied health sciences, is representing the university in the three-year project named Precision Conservation.

Precision Conservation, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, is aiming to restore the ecological health of the Susquehanna River, a main contributor to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Susquehanna River dumps about 20 billion gallons of fresh water into the bay every day. Much of the water contains excess nitrogen and phosphorus sediments that are disrupting the ecosystem of the bay.

Chesapeake Conservancy has determined that agriculture within the Susquehanna River watershed is responsible for much of the excess sediment and nutrients entering the bay.

The goal of the project is to build riparian buffers — rows of trees and shrubs — along bare streams exposed to agricultural sites.

Using high-resolution technology and satellite images, Chesapeake Conservancy can determine where to place these buffers efficiently.

“Until now, people recognized the importance of buffers but there was no consistent strategy for prioritizing the placement of individual projects,” Dr. Rier said “Precision Conservation allows for a more precise way to pinpoint where you can get the most value regarding stream restoration.”

The university has taken on the role of analyzing water chemistry and ecosystem functions such as metabolic activity and nutrient uptake of the local streams and tributaries connecting to the Susquehanna River.

Rier, with the help of biology graduate students Jennifer Tuomisto, of Northumberland, and Corey Conville, of Pottsville, and biology undergraduate senior Aaron Gordon-Weaver, of Palmyra, collects water from tributaries and streams that are deemed as high priority areas by Precision Conservation technologies.

He and his students then are responsible for measuring how much excess sediment is coming into the stream and ultimately determining if the buffers are working in restoring the stream’s health.

The project is designed to improve the waterways’ ecosystem as a whole and benefit landowners who allow buffers to be built on their property. The buffers built during the project potentially could improve recreational fishing and hunting, improve the aesthetics of landowners’ properties, maintain health of livestock and maximize crop production, according to the university.

Precision Conservation also is providing experiential learning to university students. Grants from the project are supporting biology graduate students, covering many research costs and providing valuable research experience that will benefit them after graduating.

The project is piloting in Centre and Clinton counties with plans to be a statewide in the near future. The university’s current restoration sites can be found along streams and tributaries connecting to Pine and Elk creeks in Centre County.

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