Professors, students acknowedged for Watershed Project

Since 2000, Geneseo biology professors Isidro Bosch and Robert Simon have been working alongside fellow scientists and undergraduate students on the Conesus Lake Watershed Management Project.

This project is a collaborative effort between the local scientific and collegiate community to improve near-shore water quality within Conesus Lake by altering the agriculture practices of surrounding farms.

The initiative for this project originally came from concern expressed by the Conesus Lake Association over a population of invasive zebra mussels that were impacting the ecosystem.

The Geneseo college community became involved at the request of the association and attempted to pinpoint the environmental issues.

"I started going to the lake with students to study weed and algae growth," Bosch said. "We wanted to see where the problem areas were, so we started mapping weed beds and their persistency."

Through their efforts, it became clear that the contamination affecting the ecosystems of the lake was concentrated near streams. With this knowledge, it was possible for scientists and collaborators to trace the effects back to agricultural practices and resulting nutrient runoff into streams and lakes.

 The United States Department of Agriculture recently acknowledged that certain agricultural practices were contributing to the deterioration of lakes and streams. As such, they established a national initiative to research the improvement of farming methods.

Following a series of project proposals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the Watershed Project a six-year federal grant to fund their efforts at reforming management techniques of nearby farms.

With the grant money, Bosch and Simon worked alongside project director Joseph Makarewicz, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York Farming Bureau and local governments of surrounding towns to enact necessary changes.

"For the first three years we had to establish a baseline to see how the system was performing before we did anything to it," Bosch said. "Undergraduates helped a lot with this."

The next year of the project entailed a transition period during which the project directors worked with farmers to apply new nutrient management practices.

Crop rotations were implemented, underground drainage pipes were installed and nutrient budgets were measured. This was all done for the purpose of decreasing levels of nutrient runoff from farms, thereby decreasing harmful weed and algae growth.

These changes were followed by four years of making observations and recording data.

"It took nine years, but we were able to statistically and scientifically prove that our changes could lead to a perceptible improvement in water quality in a short period of time," Bosch said.

The Conesus Lake Watershed Management Project received international recognition in October for its efforts and published findings at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference. The conference was hosted by the top environmental protection agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

The project overview article also received a certificate as the Most Cited Authors 2006-2011.

"Our summary article was cited more over the past two years than any other source," Bosch said. "The fact that other scientists are using our research and using it to promote their own studies is really meaningful."

Bosch said he believes that scientists have taken this project as far as possible.

"This was really a demonstration project to show what could be done and the improvements that came out of it," he added. "We created a formula that people could follow. Now the government has to fund it to keep the work going."