Indiana University Research & Creative Activity

Sustainability

Volume 31 Number 1
Fall 2008

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Lenore Tedesco, right, and IUPUI undergraduate Jacob Lemon
Photo by John Gentry

water research
Testing reservoir water to understand more about blue-green algae blooms
Photo by John Gentry

Restoring Waters

by Lee Ann Sandweiss

Water. Without it, life on Earth would not exist.

Lenore Tedesco understands the specifics of that statement more than most of us, and she is doing everything she can to preserve, protect, restore, and sustain Indiana's wetlands and drinking water. An environmental researcher and advocate, Tedesco is involved in virtually every water sustainability initiative in central Indiana and wants everyone else involved, too.

FROM THE COAST TO THE HEARTLAND

Growing up on Long Island near a tidal marsh, Tedesco was fascinated by marine life at an early age. After receiving her undergraduate degree in geology from Boston University, she headed to graduate school at the University of Miami.

In 1991, with a new Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics in hand, Tedesco moved inland to Indiana -- specifically to Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis. Shortly after she arrived, Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida and would consume Tedesco's research agenda for several years.

"My work studying ecosystem response to catastrophic events profoundly changed the way I view ecosystems," says Tedesco. "Everyone would ask me how long it would be before the wetlands and mangrove forests would recover. I came to understand that they would not recover, but rather that ecosystems are in a continual cycle of change and evolution. These ideas guide my work to this day."

Today, Tedesco serves as director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) at IUPUI, a position she has held for nearly 10 years. With a permanent staff of five, visiting research scientists, graduate students, and interns, CEES initiatives span environmental research, education, and public service.

"When I came to IUPUI, there was no CEES," Tedesco says. "The Department of Geology  --  now Earth Sciences -- wanted to aggressively move in an applied environmental direction. I worked on the planning documents for the center, which was founded in 1997. The center was a way to provide an interdisciplinary umbrella to strengthen work across campus and interface with the community."

'FOURTH GRADERS TO LEGISLATORS'

That's how Tedesco defines the community she and CEES are working to reach. One of the first CEES-based projects was the Lilly ARBOR Project (Answers for Restoring the Bank of the River), which has literally created a forest along a one-mile stretch of the White River in downtown Indianapolis. As successful as it was ambitious, the Lilly ARBOR Project is now in its seventh year. The experimental floodplain reforestation program has provided hundreds of students and community volunteers with the opportunity not only to see how environmental scientists measure and evaluate water quality, but also to get involved by planting trees and maintaining the site.

"The ARBOR project was an effort to convert garbage and neglect into a restoration project," explains Tedesco. "The Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation and Indianapolis Rotary Club provided initial funding, and community and student volunteers have maintained it ever since. It has been a phenomenal service-learning project -- it's about doing rather than talking. In 2000, we planted 1,400 trees; now we have 10,000, because every time it floods, seed stock comes in. There are also two families of foxes and more than 50 species of birds, where originally there were only about five species."

Tedesco is pleased that the ARBOR project has improved the environment, but she sees it as ongoing project.

"This is a big experiment, and we're getting ready for the next phase. We started with mowed grass and a garbage heap. The question is, how do you restore an eight-acre site, six acres planted, two not? An invasive grass has come in, but rather than using pesticides on the floodplain, we're going to test the effectiveness of establishing larger trees and shading. It's going to provide opportunities for new research as well as service learning -- planting, trash clean up along the river, retagging trees, and reinstalling signs."

The success and community support of the Lilly ARBOR Project attracted the attention of Veolia Water Indianapolis, the managers of the Indianapolis drinking water system, who have partnered with CEES to launch a new science education program. The program's goals are to boost science literacy among Hoosier schoolchildren and inform average citizens about water quality and their role in improving it.

"The big push into water resources began in 2002, when we entered into a research partnership with Veolia," Tedesco says. "They have provided a stable long-term base of funds to support investigative research into protecting drinking water resources and making it possible to translate the research to the community, which is at the core of our work."

The center's Discovering the Science of the Environment (DSE) program was made possible through funding led by Veolia Water Indianapolis and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Through DSE, students from fourth through ninth grade in central Indiana are learning about environmental science using an inquiry-based program designed for outdoor laboratories located on school grounds.

The DSE program travels to schools via a mobile science trailer equipped with interactive technology tools, high-tech environmental monitoring probes, Internet access, and GPS mapping capabilities. Offered free of charge, the outreach program provides an enhanced curriculum that allows students to conduct experiments and analyses of environmental habitats unique to each neighborhood.

"Kids need to be outside exploring nature in order to get excited about science and translate information about water resources into how to steward them," says Tedesco. "We cover nine counties and go out four to five days a week during the spring and fall semesters. I was part of an IUPUI School of Science and IU School of Medicine team that received an NSF grant designed to put graduate students in science classrooms. Three graduate students in the NSF program will work with our DSE program to develop new activities based around their environmental graduate research. This is a great way for CEES to keep adding new programming to the DSE program and provide teaching experience to graduate students."

MAKING POLICY, CHANGING BEHAVIOR

While the community, CEES staff, and IUPUI students across disciplines are actively involved with manifestations of Tedesco's research, Tedesco is putting in countless hours behind-the-scenes with policy makers, community and business leaders, and elected officials as an advisor to a host of organizations and boards. A gubernatorial appointee on the State of Indiana Solid Waste Management Board, Tedesco also serves on the state's Wetland Science Advisory Board, Nutrient Technical Advisory Group, the NRCS State Technical Committee, the board of the Indiana Water Resource Research Center, and the Science Education Foundation of Indiana -- to name just a few. In 2002, she received a Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence for her work in education and outreach.

Tedesco's involvement extends to active leadership with central Indiana watershed stakeholder groups -- particularly the Eagle Creek Watershed Alliance and the Upper White River Watershed Alliance (UWRWA) -- where she provides a scientific basis for water resources stewardship decisions.

Formed in 1999, partially in response to a substantial fish kill resulting from a pollution incident along White River near Anderson, Ind., the UWRWA is a consortium of local governments, industry leaders, universities, agriculture, and the regional community, working to improve and protect water quality in a watershed that encompasses 2,718 square miles [1,739,520 acres] and 16 counties in central Indiana.

As UWRWA president and a scientist, Tedesco is in a unique position to disseminate results and recommendations based on her research to those whose actions can have a major impact on regional water quality. One example is the 2008 Central Indiana Stormwater Workshop, which was attended by builders, developers, engineers, property managers, utility companies, and others. New efforts are focused on expanding stormwater education programs across the 16 counties comprising the Upper White River Watershed.

'THE FIRST STEP IS AWARENESS'

Tedesco believes that the City of Indianapolis is on the right track with its Indy GreenPrint initiative -- a citywide vision designed to create a sustainable Indianapolis that contributes to climate protection and promotes energy efficiency and conservation. She is one of 20 individuals from the public and private sector who were appointed to the "Green Commission" by Mayor Bart Peterson in August 2007. The Green Commission will initially focus on creating action plan recommendations for the goals designated as "Community Challenge" in three of the Indy GreenPrint's six areas: Energy and Emissions, Natural Resource Stewardship, and Smart Development.

"We've got to get people to understand that what they apply to the landscape will end up in the water, and it needs to be treated to get it out of the water they drink. Where do you think Roundup goes?" asks Tedesco. "Water use and reuse are critical on a grassroots level -- and getting more so every year. In suburban areas, you can see the evidence in the water, of contamination from homeowner lawn care, household chemicals, and even fecal contamination from pet waste. People are just not in tune with the fact that what they do on land is going to end up in our water. The first step is awareness."

In an effort to raise awareness of sustainability practices at IUPUI, Tedesco chaired the Steering Committee for the Campus Sustainability Initiative, an interdisciplinary coalition of sustainability programs on the campus that integrate faculty, staff, and students. In April 2008, IUPUI adopted sustainability principles for the campus that call for the promotion of a common agenda for a green campus.

"The new sustainability principles we've adopted at IUPUI are pretty exciting. The campus is a huge part of the resource cycle -- both usage and waste generation. We're talking with purchasing and big vendors," says Tedesco, who led the initiative's Land, Air, and Water Management Committee.

With the adoption of campus principles, Tedesco says the committees are busy identifying projects and priorities, recruiting new members, and engaging students in making measurable change on campus. CEES is providing staff resources and support for the initiatives.

"We are working with campus leadership to work sustainability into the new campus master plan, and I am personally working to try to find the additional funds necessary to install a green roof on a major campus building," Tedesco says. "The students call me Dr. S."

Lee Ann Sandweiss is a writer at the Indiana University Foundation and a freelance writer in Bloomington.

MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about Tedesco's work and CEES initiatives, go to www.cees.iupui.edu/. To learn more about the IUPUI Campus Sustainability Initiative, go to http://cees.iupui.edu/Education/Campus_Sustainability/index.htm.