Through the years … A water quality lab timeline

This timeline documenting the National Center for Water Quality Research through its first 50 years is taken from a more comprehensive timeline on the center’s Lake Erie Algae website – lakeeriealgae.com. The educational website covers topics that relate to Lake Erie water quality.

Sandusky River Project

David B. Baker incorporated a three-week sequence of laboratories focused on pollution issues in the Sandusky River into the introductory biology course.

1967 – Environmental Defense

A group of scientists formed the environmental group Environmental Defense (now known as Environmental Defense Fund) and set out to ban the use of DDT after discovering the affects of its use on osprey and other birds of prey.

1969 – River Lab

Upon receiving a $47,650 grant from the U.S. Federal Water Quality Administration, David Baker was able to purchase new equipment, hire part-time student workers and the first full-time staff member, Jack Kramer. Room L-120 in Laird Science Hall was dedicated as space for River Laboratory research.

June 22, 1969 – Cuyahoga River Fire

Media attention brought on by an article in Time Magazine sparked major change by helping to bring water quality issues to the forefront of environmental research and policy.

April 22, 1970 – Earth Day

In the midst of heightened concern about environmental pollution, the first Earth Day was celebrated.

December 1970 – U.S. EPA Founded

Born in the wake of elevated concern about environmental pollution, EPA was established Dec. 2, 1970, to consolidate into one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.

1972 – Clean Water Act Passed

Increasing pressure to protect water resources led to amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. These amendments are commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act of 1972. These amendments established the basic foundation for regulating pollution into the waters of the U.S. This act focused primarily on the control of point source pollution, but did recognize the need to address the problems caused by non-point source pollution.

1973 – Non-Point Source Pollution

In a paper titled “Phosphorus Sources and Transport in an Agricultural River Basin of Lake Erie,” Baker and Kramer used data collected from the River Lab to show that the largest portion — as much as 75% — of phosphorus entering the Sandusky River originated from rural farm land sources, rather than sewage treatment plants or industry.

1974 – Safe Drinking Water Act

The Safe Drinking Water Act (updated in 2014) was enacted by Congress to protect the nation’s public drinking water supplies. However, the act did not address the approximately 15% of Americans that receive their drinking water from private wells.

1974-1976 – Army Corp Of Engineers

From 1974-1976, the lab received several grants providing funding for student employees, new equipment, and expanding the scope of research performed in the lab. Three grants totaling $207,474 came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Corps Phase I and Phase II Lake Erie Wastewater Management Study. This funding allowed the lab to collect and analyze water samples from eight Lake Erie tributaries — the Sandusky, Maumee, Portage and Huron rivers — and secondary tributaries including Tymochtee, Honey, Broken Sword and Wolf creeks.

1975 – Sandusky River Symposium

In 1975, building on nearly a decade of data on the Sandusky River drainage basin, Heidelberg College and Bowling Green State University co-sponsored the Sandusky River Symposium. The symposium brought together more than 150 scientists, managers and government officials to share valuable information and ideas about water quality issues within the basin. Proceedings of the symposium helped guide the direction of research that the River Lab would pursue.

1976 – Toxic Substances Control Act

The Toxic Substances Control Act allowed for the EPA to regulate new and existing chemicals used in the U.S. Examples of substances controlled under the Act include PCBs, lead-based paints, asbestos and radon.


Lab Expansion

A $633,000 grant from the US EPA as a part of the 1978-1979 Lake Erie Intensive Study (LEIS) enabled the lab’s staff to expand to 18 full-time professional, technical and administrative employees, including current director Dr. Ken Krieger, recently retired Dr. R. Peter Richards (1978-2014), and research assistant Barbara J. Merryfield. The LEIS study included detailed assessments of the tributary, nearshore, and open lake water quality of Lake Erie, providing baseline data to compare future changes. As the lab’s research now included both rivers and lakes, the name of the River Labs was changed to the Water Quality Laboratory.


Lab Uses EPA Vessel For Research

As a part of the LEIS study, the EPA loaned Heidelberg the Roger R. Simons research vessel. The vessel displayed the Heidelberg colors and Water Quality Lab logo, as it cruised the waters of Lake Erie.


Pesticide Analysis

In 1980, the lab added analyses for common pesticides to its tributary monitoring program. These pesticides included but were not limited to atrazine, alachlor, metolachlor, and acetochlor. Through this research, the lab staff was able to get a better understanding of the presence and persistence of these compounds throughout the waters of northwest Ohio.


Edison Proposal

The Water Quality Laboratory submitted a proposal to the Thomas A. Edison Program of the Ohio Department of Development for a two million dollar grant that would have provided money to expand the lab’s agricultural pollution research . Unfortunately, the lab did not receive this grant, but the proposal did catch the eye of then-Governor Richard Celeste and indirectly led to at least $650,000 in state support to expand the lab’s research programs.


Pesticides in Rainwater

Published in the journal Nature, this report by Richards, Kramer, Baker and Krieger demonstrated that many commonly used pesticides can be found in rainwater. This was an important finding, as it helped to show yet another means of transport and storage of pesticides in the water cycle of heavily agricultural areas. However, the environmental impact of the pesticides in the rain were unclear because of the low concentrations found in the rainwater.


Well Testing Program

In June 1989, the lab published its results of an extensive survey of private wells throughout the state of Ohio. The program tested over 16,000 wells in 76 of Ohio’s 88 counties. This program continues today, and is coordinated by Nancy Miller who started at the lab in 1986. By January 2014, over 60,850 wells had been tested from 390 counties in 32 states.


Lake Erie Agroecosystem Program:

In 1990, through funding from the Gund Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, the lab set up the Lake Erie Agroecosystem Program, a study designed to address the agricultural pollution problems in Lake Erie by means of large scale ecosystem analyses. Through this project the lab hoped to reduce the impacts of agriculture on water resources, and use the Lake Erie basin as a stage for working with farmers to meet these goals. This project, along with the Lake Erie Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality (1996), led to the formation of the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition.

1994 – 1996

Expanding to the Ohio River Basin:

From 1994-1996, the lab expanded its reach from the Lake Erie watershed to include that of the Ohio River watershed. By adding these stations (Scioto, Muskingum, and Great Miami Rivers) the long-term monitoring of Ohio watersheds now covered more than 50% of total land area of Ohio.


Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act

New amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (in addition to the 1974 and 1986 amendments) now required public drinking water suppliers to provide customers with information regarding the chemicals and microbes in their water.


Lake Erie Mayfly Resurgence

Dr. Ken Krieger received an $85,000 grant to continue studying Hexagenia mayflies in Lake Erie. In 1992 Krieger had discovered a Hexagenia nymph at Stone Laboratory in a sediment sample. These mayflies had been absent from the lake for several decades, indicating an improvement on the water quality of the lake. These mayflies are especially beneficial as a source of food for sport fish.


Dr. Baker’s Retirement

In June of 1999, Dr. David Baker retired from Heidelberg College, vacating his role as director of the Water Quality Lab. Although retired, Dr. Baker continues to play a critical role in the operations of the lab. Dr. Peter Richards stepped up into the role of director and remained director of the lab until July 2002.


New Name, Same Success

In 2002, the Water Quality Laboratory was renamed the National Center for Water Quality Research (NCWQR), as declared through a resolution of the U.S. House of Representatives. This name change was introduced by then Ohio Representative Paul E. Gillmor, for whom Gillmor Science Hall is named.

February 15, 2002

Journal of Environmental Quality

Also in 2002, a special edition of the JEQ highlighted work performed by the NCWQR and other researchers as a part of the USDA-sponsored Lake Erie Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality. This project focused on studying relationships between agricultural land use and water quality in northwest Ohio from 1975-1995. Several of the articles presented in this journal were written by staff of the NCWQR


Richards-Baker Flashiness Index:

In 2004, a paper titled “A New Flashiness Index: Characteristics and Applications to Midwestern Streams” was published by Dave Baker, Peter Richards, Tim Loftus and Jack Kramer in the Journal of American Water Resources Association. The paper developed an index describing how land use practices impact the flashiness of streams in response to storm events. With over 180 citations, this paper is probably the most cited piece of literature the lab has ever published.

February 10, 2006

Downloadable Data Highlighted in Science

In the February 10, 2006 issue of Science, the NCWQR’s online database was highlighted in the NETWATCH section of the magazine. The lab’s downloadable data set is free, and provides an easy to follow tutorial on how to access the data. At the time, the dataset included data from 11 rivers throughout Ohio and allowed users to look at long-term trends in water quality using this one of a kind data set.


Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force formed

In 2007, NCWQR staff met with Ohio EPA representatives to note possible correlations between the increasing export of dissolved reactive phosphorus to Lake Erie from Northwestern Ohio rivers, and the re-emergence of harmful algal blooms in the Western Basin of the lake. These discussions led to the formation of the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, including state and federal agency staff, university researchers (including NCWQR staff) and farming organizations. The Task Force issued its final report in April 2010, and was reconvened as Task Force II with expanded membership including fertilizer industry reps and more farmers. Task Force II focused on developing plans to reduce dissolved phosphorus export to Lake Erie, publishing its final report in October 2013. NCWQR staff participated in several subsequent task groups convened by the International Joint Commission.

2008 – 2013

Honey Creek Targeted Watershed Grant

A grant from US EPA’s Region 5 supported NCWQR and three county Soil and Water Conservation Districts in farmer implementation of targeted best management practices to reduce dissolved phosphorus runoff from the Honey Creek Watershed. The programs, which focused on winter wheat and winter cover crops, were successful in implementing BMPs, but dissolved phosphorus export from the watershed continued to increase. NCWQR also worked with the University of Toledo to conduct a detailed study of the fish and invertebrate communities in maintained drainage ditches. The final report for the project was submitted in April 2014.

2008 – 2015

Sandusky Watershed Stratified Soil Testing Program

Through a grant from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, the NCWQR launched a large scale soil testing program to investigate the extent of phosphorus stratification in area soils. NCWQR worked with numerous Certified Crop Advisors and several fertilizer dealers in the region, as well as an advisory team involving extension agents, state and federal agency staff, environmental groups and the International Plant Nutrition Institute. The study documented that surficial soils in the watershed have much higher phosphorus soil test levels than revealed by traditional agronomic soil testing, and that this stratification represents a chronic source of elevated dissolved phosphorus runoff from area cropland. The production of this website represents a final product of this grant.

2009 – 2011

Studies of the Bioavailability of Phosphorus Export from Lake Erie Tributaries

Under a grant from the US EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office, NCWQR staff revisited the issue of the chemical bioavailability of particulate phosphorus through studies in the Maumee, Sandusky and Cuyahoga rivers. The lab investigated issues of the positional bioavailability of particulate phosphorus through a Lagrangian analysis of the movement of storm runoff water from the Maumee River into Maumee Bay and the Western Basin of Lake Erie. The Lagrangian study was done in cooperation with charter fishing boat captains and once again brought NCWQR staff into direct water sample collection efforts in Lake Erie. The results of these studies were published in 2014 in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.


Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network

In January 2014, the NCWQR formally joined with two other research laboratories operated by the USDA Agricultural Research Service: the Soil Drainage Research Unit at The Ohio State University and the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory at Purdue University. The three labs form the Eastern Corn Belt node of the LTAR network, one of eighteen nodes across the US. The goal of LTAR is to ensure sustained crop and livestock production and ecosystem services from agro-ecosystems, and to forecast and verify the effects of environmental trends, public policies and emerging technologies. A key expectation of the Network is the application of research results to solve critical challenges facing agriculture including: 1) a safe and plentiful food supply; 2) climate change adaptation/mitigation; 3) supplying sources of bioenergy; 4) improving water/air/soil quality; and 5) maintaining biodiversity.