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Catalyzing STEM Training and Partnerships through Comparative Analysis of Transferable Watershed Function in East River and Southern California Watersheds

Active Dates 9/1/2023-8/31/2026
Program Area Environmental Systems Science
Project Description
This project presents an integrated set of mentor-focused research and training to provide career pathways for diverse students in fields of study in watershed analysis, while contributing to intellectual growth of scientific communities at a notable Hispanic Serving Institution, California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA). The project also addresses weak representation of underserved groups in the workforce of governmental agencies and National Labs. Hydrologic challenges in urban watersheds provide a compelling reason to engage underserved students in multidisciplinary hydrologic training. Urban areas, a principal focus of the project, are increasingly stressed by drought, degradation, and population growth, and it is key to train future generations of scientists to tackle urban watershed problems and impacts of disturbances such as drought and urban change on associated river basins and people.

The main focus of our work (75%) proposes to examine overall patterns of watershed and riparian function, including water quality changes along the course of the Los Angeles River and tributaries. Changes in the LA River watershed are accelerating due to:1) widespread reuse of treated wastewater for urban irrigation and groundwater recharge that will decrease direct discharge of treated wastewater to the river; 2) decreased imported water from the Colorado River, Owens Valley, and Bay-Delta System due to drought and retention by other water-rights holders; 3) expanding capture of urban runoff in groundwater recharge basins; 4) conversion of urban areas to drought-tolerant landscapes. We hypothesize that transitioning land use practices in the LA River watershed regulates water quality, including release and loading of potentially toxic trace elements such as selenium, arsenic, and chromium. We will examine water quality impacts due to urbanization and changing land use practices using advanced investigatory tools. We will also analyze how fire ecohydrology and extremes in flooding and drought affect chemistry and flows of the river. The work is relevant to plans for modification of the LA River, including restoration work in the river channel.

For enhanced intellectual growth, the project will also leverage new capabilities and research directions within the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area (SFA) in the East River watershed of the Upper Colorado River Basin (25% of the effort). While the East River watershed includes human activity such as tourism, skiing, cattle ranching, mining activities, vast meandering floodplains and riparian zones, and some urban development, East River presents a striking contrast with the Los Angeles River watershed which receives water imports from the Colorado River. We will reciprocate project activity in East River watershed and LA River watershed with faculty, scientists, and students at Cal State LA, LBNL, and SLAC. The connections and contrasts will advance scholarly activity and perspectives for participating students and scientists alike, and contribute critical science to water resources decision making for the Upper-and-Lower Colorado River Basin. The recent overtures by the Executive Branch to allocate Colorado River water to the States ensures that this project is timely and relevant.

Student training and mentoring in this exciting collaborative project is a driving force behind the proposed research partnership. The project will prepare a diverse, well trained, knowledgeable workforce in watershed analysis. During the summer months or at other appropriate times, we will rotate diverse graduate students and where appropriate, undergraduate students in DOE-Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, or in other Watershed Function SFA labs. All students funded with partial or full DOE support will work on projects in the LA River watershed or East River watershed. The program will include a variety of experiential activities including: 1) placing DOE supported MS students in DOE and/or university labs and field research stations where East River studies are being conducted during summer months where data collection will contribute directly to their MS theses; 2) Cal-State LA faculty will explore opportunities for carrying out research in the East River system, along with the DOE supported students, as partnerships develop in the grant collaborative and where faculty expertise lends itself to Cal-State LA participation in East River watershed work; 3) internship opportunities will be made available, if possible, to Cal State LA undergraduate students; (4) scientists and students in the Watershed Function SFA teams will partner with Cal-State LA in studies of the Los Angeles River watershed, and participate in interpretation and publication of findings. These activities will engage LBNL, SLAC, and Cal-State LA faculty and students in a team environment, fostering a sense of belonging while cultivating scientific identity through independent projects. These collaborative efforts will also lead to joint publications, where students will be co-authors and as appropriate, first-authors.
Award Recipient(s)
  • California State University, Los Angeles (PI: Hibbs, Barry)