WRI Interns 2022



Increasing Community Flood Resilience on Lake Ontario through Land Use Ordinance Review

Andrew Epps (Program: Masters in City and Regional Planning)
Mentored by Rewa Phansalkar, Kristen Hychka

Flooding in New York State is widespread, frequent, and costly. In the last five years, coastal communities along Lake Ontario experienced two record-setting flooding events costing millions of dollars in damage. Implementing land use regulations to restrict risky development and reduce flood damage is an effective method to increase community flood resilience. However, many municipalities lack adequate capacity, resources, or political will to adopt the necessary ordinances. Focusing on three communities in Monroe County, this project compares existing land use ordinances with national and state recommendations to increase flood resilience. This information was integrated into a review framework to analyze and compare how land use ordinances in these communities are addressing flooding and identify gaps for improvement or regulations that increase community risk. Preliminary findings indicate that local ordinances have varying degrees of flood protection and are inconsistent in their primary objectives. Greater regional and state collaboration on land use planning could increase the flood resilience for all communities along Lake Ontario.

Assessing Sub-Watershed Transfers in New York State

Nathan Baker (Program: Masters in City and Regional Planning) and Justin Chen (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability)
Mentored by Ryan Elliott, Galia Barshad

Supply imbalances of water resources drive humans to divert water from its natural course to meet societal demands. Transferring water out of natural drainage areas, even at a local scale, can disrupt the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems. Most academic and analytical attention has been paid to larger-scale transfers, so no comprehensive inventory of smaller transfers exists. This paper begins to fill this gap by identifying inter-sub-watershed transfers across 12-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) boundaries in New York State. Building upon previous techniques to estimate anthropogenic streamflow alteration, the paper discusses methods for calculating transfer magnitude, accounting for dam storage and consumption estimates by use-type. Finally, this paper discusses potential parameters to assess the ecological effects of water transfers in New York waterbodies.

Bioacoustic Monitoring of Riparian Restoration

Emily Kao (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability) and Justin Chen (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability)
Mentored by Beth Roessler

Bioacoustic Monitoring of Riparian Restoration explores the possibility to develop a long-term acoustic monitoring for the NYDEC’s Trees for Tribs program. The program provides native plants to riparian sites across New York State in the hopes of restoring healthy streamside buffers. In our project, we assess replanting success and recovery of riparian ecosystems through bioacoustics of birds. Beginning with literature review, we explored acoustic monitoring study designs and researched potential riparian ecological indicator species. Next, we conducted a pilot study where we captured brief sound recordings at noon and dusk at restoration sites at Goetchius Wetland Preserve during the month of July 2022, and downloaded 5 days of existing sound data from July 2021 recorded at Furnace Brook. We then analyzed the recordings with sound analysis and bird identification softwares: Raven, BirdNET, and Merlin. We found mostly Song Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird at the Goetchius restoration sites, whereas we found mostly Wood Thrush and some American Robin at Furnace Brook. Though we were able to successfully identify these species, we found data analysis to be time consuming, and the identification softwares to be at times unreliable. Thus, we recommend that further acoustic monitoring projects should focus either on: a) capturing long duration recordings at a few sites to allow for the analysis of changes in trends over time, or b) incorporating quick on-site species analysis with BirdNET or Merlin into Trees for Trib’s existing vegetation monitoring protocol.

Improving Private Water Well Maintenance, Stewardship, & Knowledge: Recommendations for Revisions and Additions to the Tompkins County Sanitary Code

Andrew Epps (Program: Masters in City and Regional Planning) and Nathan Baker (Program: Masters in City and Regional Planning)
Mentored by Tompkins County Health Dept

Private water well users incur a higher risk of water contamination compared to public water supplies. Organic waste, pathogens, chemicals from agricultural runoff, heavy metals, and mineral deposits are common contaminants found in water from private wells. Despite these risks, county sanitary codes across New York provide little to no regulations for private wells. This lack of oversight and authority of local agencies to ensure access to clean drinking water can have adverse impacts on public health and water quality. This report recommends revisions and additions to the Tompkins County Sanitary Code (TCSC) that address these risks during the construction, permitting, and ownership transfer of private wells. The recommendations inform the Environmental Protection Division of the Tompkins County Department of Health through a review of pertinent literature, analysis of peer county sanitary codes, spatial data, statistics on private wells, and previous efforts to amend the TCSC. Since ensuring water quality of private wells is not the sole responsibility of any one actor, the report also offers community and educational resources aimed at improving private well maintenance, stewardship, and knowledge throughout Tompkins County.

Communicating Climate Change through Visuals and Proxy Data

Emily Kao (Major: Environmental Science and Sustainability)
Mentored by Chris Bowser, Maija Niemisto

The Norrie Point Climate Exhibit project seeks to provide research and design support to staff at Norrie Point Environmental Center during the early development process of an exhibit on climate change. Norrie Point hosts field trips for students in grade 6 up to the college level as well as some members of the general public. Through this project, we hope to disseminate climate change research into personalized visuals that help students and members of the public to become educated about local climate change impacts and empowered to take action. This project focuses on designing a tree core information panel explaining how tree cores are obtained and analyzed to understand past climate and interpreting local sea level rise projections to aid the design of a sea level rise mural.