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Susquehanna Awarded Prestigious Richard King Mellon Grant for $2.25 Million to Study River

Published on May 15, 2014

Susquehanna Univeristy students conduct field research in a tributary of the Susquehanna RiverSusquehanna University has received a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation totaling $2.25 million for a three-year Freshwater Research Initiative to further understanding of the ecological issues currently impacting the Susquehanna River and its tributaries. The grant is the latest acknowledgement of the university’s efforts to study this nationally and regionally important waterway.

“The fact that the Richard King Mellon Foundation funded the project is a validation of the importance of studying the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, and I’m proud to see this research elevated to this new and exciting level,” said Jonathan Niles, the first director of Susquehanna University’s Freshwater Research Initiative.

The foundation’s investment will catalyze critical data collection, analysis and public outreach to help address a host of environmental issues. Susquehanna faculty and staff will manage this project to ensure broad and compelling long-term impacts while working collaboratively with a network of nonprofit groups, government agencies and other academic institutions within the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.

“Our goal is to create a regional and potentially national model for collaboration based on objective scientific study and research to provide information and data to the public about the watershed,” Niles said. “We want to answer ecological questions about the river, but also create better connections to the river, and explain why a healthy river and watershed are important.”

In 2011, the Susquehanna River was named the most endangered in the nation by the nonprofit group American Rivers. The waterway provides over half of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay and drinking water to more than six million people. Communities and businesses depend on the river for commerce, hydropower generation, and recreational fishing and boating. Evidence suggests that the Susquehanna River and its ecosystem are on the brink of an ecological tragedy and face challenges from a variety of known and potential ecological impairments.

“Susquehanna’s history and identity are inextricably tied to the river. Our faculty and students have dedicated a great deal of time and energy contributing to the knowledge and understanding of this valuable resource,” said University President L. Jay Lemons. “We are honored that the Richard King Mellon Foundation has chosen to recognize and support our work going forward in ways that engage not only our campus community but a broader regional community of stakeholders.”

To date, Niles and faculty members in the biologychemistry and earth and environmental sciences departments at Susquehanna—Jack Holt, Carlos Iudica, Ahmed Lachhab and Lou Ann Tom—have been working with stakeholder groups and colleagues from partnering institutions in the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies (SRHCES). The SRHCES is composed of Susquehanna, Bucknell, Bloomsburg and Lock Haven universities and King’s and Lycoming colleges. Their work includes a variety of research projects focused on water quality and aquatic life, which ultimately affect the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Recent research at Susquehanna University has examined acid-mine drainage treatment systems in the Shamokin Creek watershed, partnering with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to document unassessed waters, teaming with King’s College to study distribution of mercury within the river, and engaging in a project with the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds and the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association to research the long-term impacts of severe flooding on organisms within the waterways. The establishment and implementation of the Richard King Mellon-funded Freshwater Research Initiative will start in the summer of 2014.


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