WRI Interns 2021

Summer 2021:

Sources of Elevated Manganese in the Ithaca Reservoir

Olivia Pietz (Majors: Chemistry and Environmental Science), Ashley Sissel (Program: Masters in Biological and Environmental Engineering)

Mentored by Matt Reid (Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Manganese (Mn) is an essential element for life processes, but it becomes harmful to human health at elevated levels. The 2016 drought in Tompkins County, NY caused an increase in dissolved Mn in the Ithaca Reservoir, a major source of tap water for Ithaca. In collaboration with Cornell’s Ecological Engineering Lab and the Ithaca Water Treatment Plant (IWTP), this project seeks to determine the contribution of sediments to the dissolved Mn concentration in the Ithaca Reservoir. In addition, we are combining water quality and chemical data to analyze the relationships between biogeochemical factors (such as pH and dissolved oxygen) and Mn concentrations. This research contributes to a longer-term project to develop an interactive calculator for the IWTP to predict reservoir Mn concentrations, adjust the treatment plant’s oxidant dosing accordingly, and continue to provide safe drinking water for the Ithaca community.

Flood Risk Responses on the Hudson

Joseph Nocua (Major: Biological and Environmental Engineering), I.T. Blair (Program: Masters in Regional Planning)

Mentored by: Jack Zinda (Cornell Department of Global Development)

As storm-driven disasters and tidal flooding become increasingly common due to the influence of climate change, communities and governments are finding themselves confronted with the question of how to respond appropriately to these threats. The Northeast of the United States has recently been experiencing increases in severe precipitation events, and within 150 miles of the Hudson River (from New York City to Troy), there are reports of rising water levels. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates a potential 27-inch increase in the Mid-Hudson Region by 2050. Using previous work (household surveys in Troy NY) and with the collaboration of Dr. John Zinda, Hudson River Estuary Program (HREP), and Cornell’s Department of Global Development, we are generating data to understand flood risk perception and the factors that influence it. Due to the immediate presence of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we have decided to compare risk perception and risk mitigation action between the COVID-19 pandemic and Flooding. The final goal is to write and publish a policy brief addressing our findings and producing flood awareness materials for HREP.

Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms

Noel D'Antonio (Major: Environmental Engineering), Joseph Nocua (Major: Biological and Environmental Engineering)

Mentored by Prof. Ruth Richardson (Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering),

Nan Wang (Cornell Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Harmful algal blooms are caused by eutrophication, excessively warm weather, and other factors. They can be harmful to humans and wildlife alike and are becoming an ever-present problem due to climate change. They lower dissolved oxygen to fatal levels and produce toxins. Microcystin, which is produced by Microcystis colonies, is the most concerning toxin in Cayuga Lake. Waters used for recreational purposes should be tested often for microcystin, however mainstream methods of doing so are costly, timely, and require specialized knowledge. Our group aims to develop an easier method to test microcystin levels, using community scientists positioned around Cayuga and other Finger Lakes.

Biological Acoustics in the Hudson Estuary

Noel D'Antonio (Major: Environmental Engineering)

Mentored by Maija Niemisto (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

Biological acoustics (or bioacoustics) is the study of the sounds of nature. Our research group, comprised of individuals from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the New York State Water Resources Institute, studies underwater soundscapes of the Hudson and connecting water bodies. My project is to create an interactive exhibit about bioacoustics for the Norrie Point Environmental Center. This presentation will show a demo of the exhibit.


Julia Gonzales (Major: Environmental Engineering), Olivia Pietz (Majors: Chemistry and Environmental Science)

Mentored by Rassil Sayess (NYS Water Resources Institute)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of chemicals that are found in a variety of industrial and household products and are linked to many dangerous health effects. Drinking water systems all across the United States are contaminated with PFAS: in New York State, prominent examples of PFAS contamination include the Village of Hoosick Falls, Town of Petersburgh, the Newburgh area and Nassau, Suffolk and Dutchess counties. Previous WRI interns have gathered and analyzed publicly available data on PFAS across Long Island and created interactive maps on their levels in drinking water. This project built upon that work and mapped sites with detectable levels of PFAS in Rensselaer and Orange County. The StoryMap of this project, which is a continuation of a 2020 project, is available here.

Stream and Riparian Restoration Targeting

Ashley Sissel (Program: Masters in Biological and Environmental Engineering), Julia Gonzales (Major: Environmental Engineering)

Mentored by Kristen Hychka (NYS Water Resources Institute)

Stream and riparian restoration can provide a suite of benefits to communities, ranging from recreational opportunities to flood water retention. Scientists nationwide have created tools to factor in equitable and optimal settings for riparian restoration programs with varying scale and effectiveness. The NYS Riparian Opportunities Assessment (NYS ROA) tool attempts to develop a suite of tools that New York conservation practitioners, watershed stakeholders, and others can use to inform their restoration decisions, however practice has shown this tool to be less effective than expected. This project aims to study and compare the NYS ROA to other current methodologies to make recommendations for the NYS ROA’s improvement.

Barriers to Community Rating System Participation in NYS

I.T. Blair (Program: Masters in Regional Planning)

Mentored by Kristen Hychka (NYS Water Resources Institute)

Examining approaches to climate change adaptation at both the federal and state level, this presentation examines the influence of land use authority on participation in the flood mitigation programs (such as the Community Rating System and Climate Smart Community) in New York. With an increasing number of flood events reported over the past and the fourth largest amount of housing units in Significant Flood Hazard Areas, New York State is in a critical position. This presentation highlights some of the barriers to participating in federal and state flood mitigation programs and discusses some approaches to redress these obstacles.

Winter 2021:

Trends of Regulated Disinfection By-Products (DBPs) in a NYS Drinking Water System

Nick Paciorek (Major: Biological and Environmental Engineering)

The formation of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water due to disinfection has become a public health concern in recent decades. In the United States, chlorite, bromate, the sum of four species of trihalomethanes (THMs), and the sum of five species of haloacetic acids (HAAs) are the 11 DBPs that have been regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) under the Stage 1 and Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule. This mandates that public water systems measure and publicly report on the presence of these DBPs in drinking water. The chemical composition of the raw water and various environmental factors impact the extent of formation and the speciation of DBPs. In this study, we explored the correlations between various water quality parameters and the sum of THMs and HAAs for a water treatment plant in Albany County. Furthermore, we developed predictive models for those two sums using the most highly correlated parameters. The two models were excellent fits whereby the two R2 were 0.78 and 0.72 for total THMs and total HAAs, respectively. Such models can serve as complementary estimates of total THMs and HAAs for water utilities without the need for advanced and expensive detection methods.

Peer-reviewed publications and research reports co-authored by interns: