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Projects Updates for Reduce Nitrates from Agricultural Stormwater

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  1. Stormwater grad student sought

    Hi sustainability friends,

    I have funding for a grad student to assist our stormwater efforts for the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Specifically, I’m looking for someone to find and curate stormwater outreach products and identify gaps. No tuition waiver but pay is $25/hr.


    Do you know of anyone that you’d recommend?




  2. follow up on potential VRO project

    Dear Madhu,

    Thank you for taking the time to speak with me and here is a follow up email to our zoom conversation. The committee on natural areas at UIUC oversees research on roughly a dozen university-owned properties that include about 1,000 acres of natural lands spanning east-central Illinois. The largest of these, the Vermilion River Observatory, located about 45 miles by road east of campus, was acquired by the Dept of ECE in the 1960s to construct a radio telescope. The ~495 acre property is now managed by the CNA for various environmental research projects and there are ~105 acres of agricultural land that are leased to a tenant farmer by ECE for cash revenue that at its peak generated ~20k/year but the value of the crop has been declining recently. Due to being in the drainage of the Vermilion river, the soils of the VRO are somewhat marginal in their production value and I think there is some chance the tenant farmer will decide to leave the lease. Or it may be possible given a suitable research project to take over the lease and use the lands for research.

    The project I am interested in pursuing is a long-term, large-scale ecological and agricultural experiment evaluating trajectories of agricultural lands following agricultural abandonment. Considering the scale of the agricultural lands on the VRO, I think it could be possible to have large and well-replicated experimental treatments that include comparisons among passive revegetation, bioenergy production, and active reforestation. Potential study outcomes could include carbon sequestration/flow, biodiversity conservation, and economic and energy cost/benefit analyses comparing the costs of these different experimental treatments versus the returns on investment. By east-central Illinois standards, I think the productivity of the agricultural lands on the VRO could be considered marginal, but based on my read of the literature and our conversation, I get the impression that these marginal lands are more likely to experience agricultural abandonment in the coming years.

    Assuming ECE would be open to a change in the management strategy for the agricultural lands on the VRO, which I would be happy to discuss with ECE and the OVCRI if we decide to proceed, the CNA could provide some logistical support for a large-scale research project on the VRO, including through the use of some of our farm equipment and out buildings on the property. We also have two full-time research/management staff whose time can be budgeted into proposals. And I am eager to undertake more long-term experiments on the CNA properties using former agricultural lands, since I see this as one of the most unique and important values of these properties that can be applied to a pressing environmental challenge.

    This is something I would be excited to pursue through the support of iSEE and I would love it if it gave us a chance to collaborate, Madhu. Attached please find an aerial photo of the VRO and an older site description map. Please let me know if you think this could dovetail with other opportunities currently being pursued by iSEE and CABBI and let me know what I can do to help!




    This is the land that Brian Allan had mentioned to me





  3. Update on Sensor Installation to Track South Farms Water Quality

    In the middle of 2021, there was a discussion about adding a sensor station at the far south of South Farms to track the water quality in the Embarras. 

    The original scope included installing the sensor during the Fall 2021 semester as a part of Arthur Schmidt's Field Class. However, obstacles, such as purchasing additional materials and the change in weather, have shifted this timeline. 

    As of Mid-November, Arthur Schmidt and his colleague, Jacob, are teaching a new sensors class in the Spring 2022 semester. The new timeline hopes to get the installation included in the Sensors Class curriculum, with installation occurring in the early half of 2022.

  4. Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS): Biennial Report 2021 Summary

    The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy guides state efforts to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our lakes, streams, and rivers. The strategy lays out a comprehensive suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff.

    The Illinois NLRS 2021 Biennial Report is the third report to provide the public with updates on the implementation of the Illinois NLRS, including a 2019-20 overview of the efforts and investments made in reducing nutrient loss to Illinois waterways from source sectors: agriculture, point sources, and urban stormwater.

    See the attached file to read the Biennial Report 2021 Executive Summary. 

    Or, visit the Illinois EPA website to read the full report!

  5. Reduce Nitrates from Agricultural Stormwater

    Hello Illinois NLRS Partners, 


    The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was released on this date five years ago.


    Thank you to all of the nutrient stakeholder partners who continue to give their time and resources to implement the strategy. While we still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals, we invite you to celebrate the anniversary by enjoying this “NLRS By the Numbers” video. 


    You can view the video on the Illinois NLRS Facebook page here. Feel free to share it on social media as well. 


    Thank you,
    Illinois NLRS Steering Committee

  6. SSC funds South Farm Nitrate Monitoring Stations

    Chemical fertilizers necessary to sustain the agricultural practices on campus are significant sources of waterway pollution downstream from UIUC. These pollutants, primarily in the form of nitrate, can contaminate drinking water, leading to health concerns such as blue-baby syndrome. Currently, the contribution of agricultural practices to this nitrate pollution from campus is unknown. This project team will build two “Nitrate Monitoring Stations” that will continuously monitor the flow of water and agricultural pollutants. These stations will transmit the data they collect remotely, allowing easy access to UIUC students and community members. The first monitoring station will be located at the exit point for all water from the UIUC South Farm watershed and the second will be at the exit point for water flowing from the Animal Science Dairy Facility.

  7. note about measuring quality of water in campus watershed

    The SWATeam asked County Engineer, Jeff Blue, who owns the bridge running across the Embarras on Airport Road (1100N) just west of the intersection of Race Street (1350E), in the hopes of adding a monitoring station.  Mr. Blue replied, "That bridge is under the jurisdiction of Philo Township. I know he is doing some substantial work on the ditch on the north side of Airport Road this summer which leads to this bridge. I doubt if the township would object, but it would be best to wait until the work on the ditch is complete. Please let me know what type of monitoring device would be used and how it would be attached to the bridge. I should be your contact on this project, as we are the bridge inspectors on behalf on the township."

  8. Water & ALUFS SWATeam Joint Meeting

    Each team shared ideas of the semester and came together to propose a few joint recommendations. Suggested logistics for a water audit were mentioned, as well as nitrate runoff data from the 1990s that would be used as benchmark levels for runoff reduction. Different possible measuring techniques regarding future progress in nitrate reduction were mentioned. Ideas for greener parking lots were introduced, including replanting of trees on Lot E14.

  9. ALUFS iCAP efforts in progress

    Hello ALUFS SWATeam members,

    Thank you again for your willingness to help our campus achieve the Climate Leadership Commitments.  There is great value provided by the bi-weekly meetings of student, faculty, and staff representatives evaluating our progress and recommending additional actions campus units could take.

    The following is a list of current activities I am aware of, and suggestions I have about useful next steps.  I am happy to follow up with you on any of these, as needed.

    Thank you very much,





    1.      Ag Emissions – During the 2015 iCAP process, we included the goal to reevaluate the emissions from ACES and create a new emissions baseline for south farms.  This effort was not started, but there is still an opportunity to do such an evaluation.  I believe Madhu Khanna and Evan DeLucia would be good resources for this evaluation, and perhaps Ximing could help facilitate it.

    2.      Best Management Practices (BMPs) - The previous SWATeam considered dropping the Ag Emissions evaluation objective and adding one to encourage use of Best Management Practices for south farms.  The BMPs are an important aspect for increasing campus sustainability, and the concept should be extended to include land that is leased out to other farmers within the campus boundaries (if any). 

    3.      Sustainable Plantings – Brent has made progress on the campus plant lists.  It would be helpful to have a map of existing native planting areas on campus, in GIS format.  We can provide the map of low mow zones as a starting point.

    4.      Once there is a map, additional locations can be suggested for pollinator pockets, to support monarch butterflies and other pollinators.  Such locations can also include spaces that would reduce difficulty for the Grounds crew in riding mowers, such as nooks and crannies on campus, as well as steep slope areas.

    5.      I suggest you invite Eliana Brown to give an overview of the efforts underway for the Red Oak Rain Garden.

    6.      The Campus Master Plan is in final review and will be moving toward Board of Trustee approval.  The website is at, but I’m not sure if they will have another review draft for the public.

    7.      Local Food – great work in Dining!  I’m curious what the current percentage is from FY17.

    8.      We need to look at what we are doing for other campus food areas, such as coffee shops and small cafes.  Your team could submit a recommendation about local food for dining in one or more of the non-housing areas.

    9.      Soil sequestration – Other than prairies and trees, are there sequestration efforts campus should consider? 

    10.  To reduce nitrate in Ag. Runoff, I suggest your team look at applicable recommendations in Nitrate Reduction Plan, and suggest the most promising ones for campus to implement. 

    11.  At one point, we considered woody bioreactors in South Farms – see  These are still an option, I just didn’t have time to move it forward in 2014.

    12.  The Now Mow Zones were renamed Low Mow Zones, and there will be a press release and F&S website update to reflect the locations and benefits.

    13.  Brent Lewis can share an update about the use of more electric equipment for Grounds operations.

    14.  An updated Tree Inventory has been funded.  Brent is working on getting two quotes, so that the purchase order can proceed and the efforts can be started.

  10. Water & ALUFS Joint Meeting Minutes 4/27/17

    Water & Stormwater SWATeam and the Agriculture, Land Use, Food & Sequestration (ALUFS) SWATeam had a joint meeting to discuss shared objectives and project ideas.