|Lily takes a grab sample, March 2008|
Lily Hwang was knee-deep in Broad Hollow Creek in Freeburg, Ill. when she answered a call warning her of an inland hurricane heading her way. She was collecting a water sample for her master’s thesis, and the rain had already started. She leaned over an automated storm sampler, screwdriver in hand, trying to repair it as the rainwater soaked her back.
If the storm sampler’s sensor didn’t trip as waters began to rise, her data would be no good. So she finished the repairs before heading to safety.
We hired Lily as Ecohydrologist after she finished her master’s because we admired her commitment to her research and her work in river conservation.
Last week, Lily’s data was published in the journal Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, in an article entitled Whole Catchment Land Cover Effects on Water Quality in the Lower Kaskaskia Watershed (J. Miller, J. Schnoonover, K. Williard & C. Hwang).
In the article, the authors look at the effects of land cover on water quality in southern Illinois.
Lily and her colleagues found elevated levels of several nutrients (including orthophosphate, ammonium and nitrate) and E. coli in agricultural and urban areas, and orthophosphate and E. coli levels exceeded the USEPA criteria in both areas. Likely sources of these elevated nutrient and fecal levels include fertilizer and runoff. Sewage systems, particularly in urban areas, may also be another contributing source.
In short, fertilizers used for agricultural purposes are ending up in streams, and they’re changing the balance of plant and animal life. Meanwhile, bacteria that grow in fecal matter are showing up in the streams, too, likely from livestock and urban sewage systems.
“Knowing the sources of water toxins is important,” Lily says, because it helps land managers understand and improve management practices.
For example, she says, problems arise in sewage systems that were built decades ago that didn't account for the possibility that sewage can overflow and mix with sources of drinking water.
Lily's role in the study helped researchers "get to the beginning of the story of urban [development]" and how it affects watersheds, she says.
"People will develop the land, whether we want them to or not," Lily says. But understanding problems with development that have occurred in the past will help land managers improve practices in the future.
Aside from land managers and city planners, Lily stresses the importance of educating young people about the interconnectivity of a watershed. She hopes that to younger generations, water conservation, and every small thing that helps or hinders it, will be as recognizable as recycling programs are to people her age.
Which is why we’re so proud to have Lily on our team. She had a strong commitment to our mission long before we found her, and she continues to work out of her passion at LRRD as our community educator, curriculum developer, consultant and researcher.