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Source: Walter Dodds, 785-532-6998, wkdodds@k-state.edu
Web sites: http://www.k-state.edu/media/mediaguide/bios/doddsbio.html
http://www.k-state.edu/ourstate
News release prepared by: Jennifer Torline, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

K-State, Our State:
WANT TO IMPROVE KANSAS WATER QUALITY? THINK SMALL: PROFESSOR TAPS INTO HEADWATER STREAMS FOR CLEANER WATER

MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University professor Walter Dodds is providing Kansans with a better understanding of how human activity affects water quality.

Dodds, university distinguished professor of biology, has devoted more than 20 years to researching water quality in Kansas biological communities.

Through his research on stream and river ecosystems Dodds has discovered an important quality of streams: What happens in the headwater streams greatly influences water quality downstream, meaning that water quality improvement efforts should focus on smaller streams.

"Freshwaters of the state provide valuable ecosystem goods and services that have a positive monetary effect on the citizens of the state," Dodds said. "Clean water is a valuable resource that we want now and to preserve for the future. The goal of my research is to understand how we can harmonize the human relationship to our environment to maximize benefits provided by freshwaters to Kansas citizens."

Most of his research focuses on Kansas streams, including streams on the Konza Prairie Biological Station just south of Manhattan.

"We've created an idea of what baseline conditions of water quality issues are in the state," Dodds said. "We know this region is capable of very good water quality."

Because water is used for drinking, recreation, irrigation, industry, fishing and more, clean streams and rivers are indispensable resources. Dodds' research provides insight into what kind of public efforts and policies can best influence the water quality in Kansas.

Dodds is working on two major Konza projects to improve Kansas' potential for clean water. One focuses on patch burn grazing and its effects on water, while the other project looks at the conversion of prairie streams to forest streams. The projects involve Kansas agricultural practices as well as land use and land cover changes.

Patch burn grazing, a newer management technique, uses fire and grazing to improve wildlife and livestock production. It involves burning a third of pasture each year. Cattle gravitate toward the most recently burned areas in the pasture because of the more nutritional grass, allowing other pasture areas two years of rest between grazing.

"A lot of places that are preserving tallgrass prairie are using this management technique, but almost nothing is known about its effects on water," Dodds said.

Because patch burn grazing concentrates cattle into one area of pasture, nearby water resources could be greatly affected by cattle waste runoff. Dodds wants to find out how the concentration of cattle affects water quality, and what kind of mitigation efforts can reduce any negative effects.

Dodds' second project involves his observation over several years that an increasing number of open prairie streams are converting to forested streams.

"We are seeing basic shifts in biologic communities," Dodds said. "The community goes from organisms that prefer algae that comes from the open prairie streams to organisms that prefer leaves that fall on the streams."

The shift in biologic communities is important because it affects the water level and flow of nearby streams. It may be the cause of an increase in the number of dry days in Konza streams during the past 20 years.

"It's our best explanation for what is happening at Konza," Dodds said. "The precipitation and temperature haven't changed very much at all over the time period, but the runoff has gone down."

Dodds said similar situations might be happening in streams around the state, especially as forested areas grow in the northern region of the Flint Hills. He is performing a series of experiments where he removes vegetation from the watershed to see if the flow of the stream increases.

But Dodds' research doesn't stop there. He is also involved with ecological forecasting, which looks at how chemical and biological changes affect water. Dodds is analyzing data from state agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency to look at water quality and biodiversity.

Kansas State University is an economic development leader with nationally recognized research programs focused on clean water and air, sustainable food, renewable energy and improving the financial future of Kansans. As the state's land-grant university, K-State is committed to improving the quality of life for Kansas families.