Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson, associate professor in biological sciences, researches watershed restoration.

Photo courtesy of: University Advancement

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American Electric Power funds continued watershed restoration efforts

Program in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs receives $250,000 gift

It is estimated that more than 1,300 miles of Ohio streams are negatively affected by acid mine drainage (AMD), according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management. Residing in the center of it all, Ohio University is geographically well situated to be a leader in restoration of acid mine impacted waters.

American Electric Power* (AEP) has supported watershed programs for more than a decade at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, a series of programs that focus on sound science and data collection to drive water restoration efforts. Currently, the school provides everything from watershed coordination, applied research and stream and river monitoring, to technical assistance and services to watershed partnerships and state/local agencies.

According to Kelly Johnson, associate professor in biological sciences, Faculty Fellow and current holder of the AEP Professorship, the university is “very fortunate to have a number of very committed faculty and staff who have been working in the area of watershed restoration for a long time.”

“The combined resources of research faculty looking for interesting problems to solve, bright students looking for ways to learn new skills, technical infrastructure that the university offers and the collaborative support of watershed groups and state agencies make for a natural and synergistic fit,” Johnson said.

For this program, the Voinovich School is in partnership with AEP. The electric company recently made a $250,000 pledge to the AEP Watershed and Restoration Activities Fund.

 “The AEP gift is a major contribution to the Voinovich School and University efforts at watershed research and restoration and student learning. AEP funded the AEP Watershed Research Professorship at the School, and this new gift provides support for major work in this area,” Mark Weinberg, director of the Voinovich School, said. “Specifically, I would like to thank AEP Ohio President Joe Hamrock and the head of the AEP foundation, Susan Tomasky, for this contribution.”

A portion of the AEP funds are being used to extend existing restoration activities that the Voinovich School is involved in, such as the coordination of multiple remediation projects in Raccoon Creek, an area that has had more than 23 miles of streams restored by the watershed partnership since 1998.

“This kind of continuity and infrastructure is essential for bringing projects to completion and for restoring biological life to more river miles in our region,” Johnson said.

The AEP funds also will help further provide faculty, students and Voinovich School staff the support needed to collaborate on southeast Ohio’s “Modeling the Recovery of Streams” project. This project is a regionally specific model of biological recovery that, according to Johnson, will “help [those involved in the project] more accurately predict how long it will take a particular stream to recover from acid mine pollution.”

“The AEP funds also will provide Voinovich School staff the resources needed to expand and upgrade the online water quality database to the entire coal-bearing region of Ohio and to provide technical support to area watershed groups and students conducting research in these watersheds,” Jen Bowman, environmental projects manager for the Voinovich School, said.

Working with this project, students have the opportunity to solve real problems, to collect data in the context of a larger, interdisciplinary team and to learn beyond how they learn in the classroom.

According to Johnson, students get “a level of experience that is more realistic than what they encounter through regular coursework, so they really learn a lot more about the complexity of environmental restoration, especially the real-world limitations and their own strengths and weaknesses.”

“Suddenly, [the students] have to learn to rely on their skills and brain rather than their notes or lab partners. They have to think on their feet, and get used to accountability,” Johnson said. “Making a mistake isn't just a lower test score: it could set the team back for a week. So, beyond technical aspects, some of the most valuable lessons learned are in communication, organization and accountability to a diverse team.”

With the help of AEP’s gift, faculty and students from across the University will get the opportunity to continue this important research, as well as to continue to bridge the University's partnership with area watershed groups and state agencies.

“We have the ability to work across disciplines, involve students and work to solve a pressing issue for our region: the impact from abandoned mine drainage on our streams. This is important work that takes a strong partnership to begin to solve,” Bowman said. “Fortunately, Ohio University and the Voinovich School staff and faculty have the knowledge, expertise, and experience to give towards this program.”

Related Links

Ohio University Foundation fundraising report: May University Advancement

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