WRI Interns 2019

Climate Smart Communities

Alex Goddard (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability), Kalena Bonnier-Cirone (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability), and Ethan Wissler (Program: Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of City and Regional Planning)

New York State’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Certification program—similar to LEED certification— supports New York communities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving their climate resilience. For certification, communities earn points with documented actions to achieve Certified, Bronze, Silver or Gold levels. Once certified, communities are better positioned to compete for implementation funds through the CSC Grant Program. WRI, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (Tompkins CCE), and the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center (SU-EFC) are working together to provide technical assistance to help communities in Central New York participate in the Certification Program. For this project, the interns worked with Tompkins CEE and WRI staff to provide communities with technical assistance on the water-related planning aspects of CSC certification.

Roadside Ditches

Emma Payne (Major: Environmental Engineering), Alex Goddard (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability) and Kalena Bonnier-Cirone (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability)

Roadside ditches may seem like an insignificant part of our landscape, but they have the ability to drastically impact local hydrology. In an average Central New York watershed, there are 94 connections between streams and ditches and 63 percent of all ditches discharge into streams (Schneider 2017). As a result, ditches increase the velocity and volume of water flowing into streams and thus have the potential to drastically impair stream health. This project investigated the impact of roadside ditches on streams by analyzing stream geomorphology, substrate, macroinvertebrates, and bank stability. Ten first-order streams across Tompkins County were chosen for sampling and data were collected above and below stream-ditch confluence. Preliminary results show that streams are significantly widened and scoured downstream compared to upstream. Findings from this project highlight the importance of properly managing ditches in maintaining a healthy watershed.

Finger Lakes Groundwater

Joseph Merhi (Major: Operations Research and Information Engineering)

Maintaining high water quality of the Finger Lakes is crucial to the state of New York. The NYSDEC collects and analyzes surface water samples from lakes and streams in the state but performs only limited analyses with groundwater data, despite groundwater being used as a source of drinking water by approximately one-quarter of the population of the state. The New York State Water Resources Institute (WRI) is working to provide support for this project for the NYSDEC’s Finger Lakes Water hub office in Syracuse, NY. To assess groundwater quality in the Finger Lakes, a literature review has been done, and a comprehensive dataset of available NWIS groundwater samples has been compiled: the dataset includes information about the selected well sites (county, coordinates, watersheds, aquifer type) as well as sampling data of a multitude of parameters (nutrients, metals, organics, etc.).

Print My Watershed

Ethan Wissler (Program: Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of City and Regional Planning)

3D models help many concepts and designs come to life—why not the environment? It’s often hard for people to understand the boundaries of a watershed (drainage basin). A three-dimensional model can show rivers, streams, and different kinds of land cover like forests, farms, and impermeable surfaces. Other sources of data can be incorporated to show elevation, water quality attributes, human-built infrastructure and other features. These data can be combined to create outputs fed to 3D printers using STereoLithography (STL) or other file formats. During this internship, a watershed was selected to be printed, and printing resources on campus or in Ithaca were explored more broadly. An elevation or 3-D model that included city boundaries, water table, land cover, population density, etc. was created.


Miles McDonald (Major: Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) and Emma Payne (Major: Environmental Engineering)

This project evaluated changes in catchment flooding regime associated with Eastern hemlock mortality and eventual replacement by different tree species through a combination of field research and hydrologic modeling. The primary goals of this work included supplementing current understanding of Eastern hemlock water use, and predicting hydrologic changes at catchment and state-scales using computer simulations. The internship included: 1) reviewing existing research to better understand hydraulic differences between Eastern hemlock and candidate successional species, 2) reviewing existing research to determine the benefits and shortcomings of cryogenic vacuum isotope extraction to support field sample analysis, 3) learning how to use field equipment, 4) managing and updating data for modeling analysis.

Project: Watershed-Based Storytelling

Bridget Childs (Major: Environmental Engineering)

The initial goal of this project was to examine new ways that the Water Resources Institute could achieve its mission of research, education, and outreach. Storytelling became the basis of how this project achieved its goals. This project created a story map about the Sparkill Creek Watershed as part of an educational installation at the Norrie Point Environmental Center. The story map goes over the area’s current projects, history, and organizations involved with the watershed. The project involved research, interviewing, and communicating with community member.

Year of Water

Joseph Merhi (Major: Operations Research and Information Engineering) and Bridget Childs (Major: Environmental Engineering)

The goal of the Year of Water project is to raise awareness of our local water infrastructure and governance by engaging Cornell students, Ithacans, and visitors in a series of free-choice learning installations as part of the New York State Water Resources Institute (WRI)-led “Year of Water” at Cornell. During the summer, the main goals achieved for the Year of Water campaign was a PocketSights Tour, an interactive walking tour hosted on the PocketSights App; gathering and organizing the selected designs; and asking permissions from the appropriate stakeholders.

Project: Flood Risk in New York

Ethan Wissler (Program: Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of City and Regional Planning) and Bridget Childs (Major: Environmental Engineering)

Waterfront and coastal communities and property owners are ill-equipped in flood resilience planning and/or response. In this internship, we helped develop data to validate flood risk predictive tools and assess the impacts of climate uncertainty on flood risk. This work looked at two different water bodies and associated coastal communities of New York, Lake Ontario and Jamaica Bay, and worked to help build the suite of data and tools that can assist in improved flood resilience.


Emma Payne (Major: Environmental Engineering)

Glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine], most popularly known as the active ingredient in the pesticide Round-Up, is the most heavily used herbicide active ingredient in the world, with 1.35 Tg used globally in 2017. It was traditionally believed that glyphosate has a low potential for runoff due to its strong affinity to bind to metal oxides in soil as well as its quick microbial degradation. However in a summary of nine studies spanning 3700 samples analyzed from 2001-2010, it was found that 71 percent of samples had detectable levels of glyphosate. This contradiction of the accepted standard, coupled with recent fears that glyphosate ingestion may be linked to cancer, necessitates further study into the triggers of glyphosate runoff. This project compared lab analysis results from 2018 and 2019 to results from 2015-2017. The 2018 and 2019 campaigns deviate from the previous trend that a high pre-application rainfall translates to high glyphosate efflux, indicating that more complex hydrological processes are at play in driving glyphosate loss.