Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) are leading an effort to improve water quality in the Neshanic River Watershed. The watershed, a 35-square mile region encompassing Raritan, Delaware, East Amwell and Flemington townships, is part of the Raritan River Basin, in Central New Jersey.
“We all need clean water for drinking, recreation and other purposes,” said team leader Zeyuan Qiu, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental economics in the department of chemistry and environmental science at NJIT. “The grant will improve water quality in watershed communities by mapping out an integrative and comprehensive restoration plan.” Qiu is also advising NJIT undergraduate and graduate students working on a green campus initiative. Issues include water drainage on roofs.
Qiu’s team believes the water in the Neshanic River Watershed to be polluted. “We think the pollutants have come from non-point sources such as municipal storm sewer systems, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides and lawn care products applied in the watershed,” Qiu said.
Scientists and engineers have been developing management measures and practices to restore water quality. Some measures could be expensive, such as constructing a drainage basin and stabilizing stream banks. Some of them, though, could be as simple as explaining to stakeholders the best time to apply lawn care products.
“When fertilizer and pesticides are applied to a lawn and it rains a day later, some fertilizers and pesticides will not be absorbed by the lawn and instead they will be carried out to the stream,” explained Qiu. “How much fertilizer is washed away depends on the amount applied by the homeowner and the timing of the application. By getting the word out, or making some rules as to when to apply lawn care products, we believe at least part of the problem could be averted.”
A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the effort. The US Department of Agriculture and the US Geological Survey support other environmental work involving Qiu.
The development of the restoration plan for the Neshanic River watershed will address the necessary information on the sources and causes of non-point source pollutants, the management measures to address each of the causes, the reductions in non-point source pollution that would result from implementing these management measures and the technical assistance and financial support required when implementing these measures. The plan is expected to have an immediate positive effect on the watershed by identifying opportunities for local organizations to convince farmers and other stakeholders to implement environmental management and conservation practices supported by federal, state and local programs.
Similar efforts have been taken in other watersheds in New Jersey and the U.S. “A unique feature of our effort is that the economic principles will be incorporated to help select and prioritize the restoration efforts.” Qiu said. “We probably assembled one of the most experienced teams on watershed management in New Jersey.” Researchers and practitioners from Rutgers University, New Jersey Water Supply Authority, North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development Council, South Branch Watershed Association and Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District are collaborating with NJIT on the project.
Qiu received his PhD in agricultural economics with an emphasis on natural resource and environmental economics from University of Missouri-Columbia. His research interests include non-market evaluation of natural resources, environmental policy analysis, integrated watershed management, environmental risk analysis and integration of biophysical simulation, economic modeling and geographic information systems for environmental management.
Qiu’s recent research focuses on modeling and evaluating the interactions between land and water resources. Qiu evaluates the technical, social, economic and institutional factors that affect protection and preservation of hydrologically sensitive areas. He examines policy implications for watershed and stormwater management as well as smart growth in environmentally fragile rural-urban interfaces.
“Economic Valuation of Riparian Buffer and Open Space in a Suburban Watershed,” of which he is the lead author will appear in the coming issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association. In May of 2005, Qiu authored “Using Multi-Criteria Decision Models to Assess the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Farming Decisions in an Agricultural Watershed,” which appeared in the Review of Agricultural Economics.