Jonathan Holley M.S. '08 has been examining the relationships among retention ponds, stormwater runoff, and downstream effects on aquatic invertebrate communities.
His research project "Water Quality in Headwater Streams: A Test of Best Management Practices," won the $500 Award for Excellence in Scholarship in the Natural and Computational Sciences at the College's 2008 Graduate Research Symposium.
Impervious surfaces in developed environments build up and contain a variety of pollutants, and the runoff from stormwater can carry these pollutants downstream with damaging effects on aquatic life. Recently the federal government amended the Clean Water Act to address this type of "non-point source" pollution. States and localities have responded with various kinds of stormwater retention ponds designed to varying standards.
"You see stormwater retention ponds everywhere, and one of their functions is to trap pollutants before they reach the headwaters. It's kind of surprising, but we still know very little about how well this is working," Jonathan said.
Several mini-grants from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research helped Jonathan to pay for incidental and unexpected research expenses. He also received a $2,000 Arts and Sciences Graduate Fellowship, nominated by the Biology Department for "excellence in his graduate studies" and noting his best Teaching Assistant award in Spring 2007 and his recognition for best student talk at the Virginia Water Resources Research 2007 Conference.
"What funded most of my research was a $15,000 grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment. It felt great to get that kind of acknowledgment that my work had wide application and value. I've been working with professors Randy Chambers in the Biology Department and Greg Hancock in the Geology Department. They encouraged me to apply for the grant, and also helped arrange for undergraduate researchers to gather data from my outflow monitors," Jonathan said.
Jonathan designed a research protocol that compared the abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrate communities in (a) "pristine" sites unaffected by runoff, which he used as a reference, and (b) runoff sites located downstream from stormwater retention ponds. "If the retention ponds are succeeding, there should be no detectable differences in the macroinvertebrate communities," he noted.
The state requires that retention ponds meet a minimum standard in how much runoff they can accommodate over a given time. Nearby James City County sets a higher standard, requiring that the ponds allow for the retention of 2.8 inches of rainfall over a 24-hour time period. "It's the most stringent requirement statewide, and ideal for locating my monitoring sites," Jonathan said.
His early results show significant degradation of aquatic life in sites downstream from retention ponds. "There's a clear effect showing up in the reduced larvae counts for the Mayfly, Stonefly, and Caddisfly, compared to the reference sites. For retention ponds to be successful, we need to revisit their criteria for structural and functional design."
Jonathan also served as program chair for the College's 2008 Graduate Research Symposium, where students present their research in a friendly, relaxed environment. "The event brings together students from all the disciplines on campus. It's a great chance to see the work other people are doing. This year we invited more students from other campuses, which made it even better," he said.