The Research Angle: Bledsoe and Pruden Receive NSF CAREER Awards

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How Streambeds Process Pollutants

The shape of riverbeds may affect how streams combat excess nitrogen that depletes oxygen levels and chokes aquatic life, hurting water bodies, drinking water supplies and potentially tourism around the world.

Most scientists studying how streams process excess nitrogen have studied the biology, not the physical form and hydraulics of the streambed. Brian Bledsoe, civil engineering assistant professor, argues that channel form could be just as important in determining stream health. Knowing how the forms of small streams help manage pollutants could help increase the cost effectiveness of stream and watershed restoration.

Bledsoe received a $450,000 NSF CAREER Award over the next five years to further these studies.

Bledsoe's research will include creating new outdoor laboratories for graduate and undergraduate students in and around Fort Collins to study Spring Creek, Sheep Creek, the Little Snake River and the North St. Vrain River. Bledsoe and his team will inject tiny amounts of nitrogen isotopes into the streams and track them to monitor how the profiles of the riverbeds and flow conditions affect nutrient retention.

Tracing the Path of Antibiotics

The rapid spread of disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to high doses of antibiotics represents a global health threat. Environmental engineers and scientists have been measuring the effects of antibiotic drugs that make their way from farms and cities into our rivers and streams, and their findings are disturbing. Widespread exposure to antibiotics proliferates the spread of antibiotic resistant genes (ARG), which cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. This makes it challenging to find effective medicines when people are ill.

Amy Pruden, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, recently received the NSF CAREER award to characterize the occurrence of ARG along the Front Range of Colorado and investigate the role of on-farm management, wastewater treatment, and drinking water treatment in reducing the spread of ARG. Pruden's research will help to open new approaches to mitigation and treatment of these unique contaminants.