Evaluation of Different Approaches for Controlling Phosphorus Pollution in the Maumee River Watershed (2015)

Client Organization: 
Great Lakes Commission
Project Location : 
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

The objective of this Master's project is to create and demonstrate a repeatable methodology that integrates ecological, economic, and socio-political analysis into developing non-point nutrient management strategies for a large scale watershed. This integrated assessment relies on evaluation of physical watershed characteristics, best management practice placement and costs, computer modeling tools, and critical review of a suite of voluntary to regulatory policy interventions.

Conservation programs to control soil erosion, reduce sedimentation and manage runoff from rural landscapes have been utilized for many decades. Numerous best management practices (BMPs) have been developed to conserve soil and nutrients, reduce runoff, improve water management and water quality and increase habitat. As water quality challenges have become more complex and as the nonpoint source (NPS) pollution contributions to water quality impairments have become better understood, scientists and managers have realized the importance of implementing programs in a more targeted way and on a watershed basis. In response to limited public resources, attempts are increasingly being made to focus efforts on those watersheds where increased conservation treatment will likely provide the biggest improvement in water quality for the least cost. However, conservation treatment programs can be expensive, almost always require a long timeframe to show results, and require follow-up monitoring to assess progress. It is also often difficult to tie specific conservation practices with measurable water quality and ecosystem improvements in watersheds with diverse land uses and multiple ecosystem stressors. This project proposes to compile information and review available literature on different approaches and methodologies available for implementing conservation treatment, including: traditional on-the-land BMPs; information, education and outreach programs; financial incentive programs; regulatory approaches; and others. The study will also provide basic analysis of costs versus benefits of the different methodologies and approaches. A specific watershed in the Great Lakes, such as western Lake Erie (Maumee River basin), Saginaw Bay or Fox River/Green Bay might be selected as a way to keep the study manageable and focused. The specific goals of the project are:

  • Identification of different approaches and methodologies to control NPS pollution
  • Compiling and reviewing information from studies and published literature on the use and effectiveness of different approaches/methodologies
  • Assessing the costs and benefits of different approaches (combination of approaches) that will achieve greatest ecosystem benefit for the least cost
  • Assess the political, legal and social acceptability of the different approaches or combination of approaches
  • Writing a report summarizing the report’s findings and recommendations
SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Environmental Justice
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Don Scavia and Michael Moore
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Julia Elkin, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Meghan Hemken, MS Conservation Ecology
  • Hassan Bukhari, MS Sustainable Systems
  • Nat Lichten, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Samantha Shattuck, MS Environmental Justice
  • Robert Pettit, MS Conservation Ecology
Project Status: 
Past Project