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Results of Collaborative Environmental Research Presented to Lawrence County Conservation District

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Posted on Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Four students participating in the environmental science/studies capstone class presented the results of their research to the Lawrence County Conservation District during their monthly board meeting on Dec. 6, 2017, in New Castle, PA.

The students studied the impact of nutrient management plans on water quality near agricultural sites. Nutrient management plans are strategies adopted by livestock operations to address environmental concerns related to soil erosion, livestock manure, and disposal of organic by-products.

In collaboration with the local conservation districts, the students identified cattle and dairy farm locations within both Lawrence and Mercer counties. At each location, the students investigated water quality both upstream and downstream of the farm. They collected water quality data and sampled macroinvertebrates at farming locations with and without nutrient management plans.

The student results indicate that, with the exception of one site, water quality was generally good near farms. Because of the limited data set, the students did not find statistically significant differences between water quality near farms with a nutrient management plan and farms without a nutrient management plan. The students were able to provide the conservation district with important water quality data and to make suggestions for improving a research study like theirs.

"Working on my Capstone project this semester was a once in a lifetime opportunity," said environmental science major Leah Billingsley. "Not many people my age can say they conducted and presented their own research and even fewer can say they worked in collaboration with their local conservation district. It was an honor to be a part of the ES 2017 Capstone Team and an even bigger honor to have the help of the Lawrence County Conservation District."

The interdisciplinary capstone research project was mentored by Dr. Helen Boylan, professor of chemistry, and Dr. Diana Ortiz, assistant professor of biology.

For more information, contact Boylan at or 724-946-6293.