Coal mining has negative impact on freshwater stream biodiversity

Coal energy is expected to remain a key component of the national electricity portfolio until 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration.  Previous research suggests that coal mining operations can negatively impact the environment.  For instance, mountaintop-mining valley fill operations, common across Appalachia, often result in bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in fish while other mining operations acidify freshwater streams.  Current federal regulations, like the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (1977), aim to protect the environment from degradation by providing operational standards to minimize the surface impacts of mining.

However, a recent study, published in Nature Sustainability and co-authored by Freshwater Initiative researcher Julian Olden, found that despite current laws and regulations, mining operations continue to have a detrimental impact on freshwater streams.  Where previous research has focused on a single mining operation or region, this study, led by Xingli Giam at the University of Tennessee (a former UW post-doctoral researcher), provides a quantitative meta-analysis of the impact of coal mining on stream health across multiple regions of the United States, according to a variety of mining operations, and under existing environmental regulations.

The study reported that streams affected by coal mining had, on average, a one-third reduction in biodiversity and only half of the total organism abundance of unaffected streams.  Invertebrate, fish, and salamander species richness (e.g., the number of different species living in the stream) declined by 32%, 39%, and 28%, respectively.  The study also suggests that even where federal regulations had mandated stream restoration, biodiversity and total organism abundance were still lower than unaffected streams.


Stream organisms affected by coal mining operations

The authors argue that for regulations to be effective, they must have broad, public support.  It is necessary to identify bipartisan arguments for conservation that resonate across a wide variety of backgrounds and belief systems.  For example, appeals to improving public health (coal mining has a high human health cost, including lung cancer and kidney disease) and recreational fishing and hunting (streams provide recreational opportunity) may both attract broad support.  Without stricter regulations backed by public support, coal mining operations will continue to degrade stream health across the United States.

You can read the full study here.

Long-term water resources data collection network is shrinking

Though nearly 71% of the Earth is covered in water, less than 3% of Earth’s water is fresh water, and only about 0.3% is readily available to humans in lakes, streams, rivers, and wetlands.  Reliable accounting of this limited resource is therefore fundamental to manage freshwater allocations to both ecosystems and society.  Networks of stream gages, known as “hydrometric networks,” have traditionally provided scientists with long-term records of water flow, water height, and other water quality variables.  However, a recent study finds that the global hydrometric network is not keeping pace with freshwater monitoring needs around the world.  The number of stream gaging stations reporting data to publicly available data repositories, called Water Information Systems, is declining.

Freshwater Initiative researcher Julian Olden is a co-author on a new study which proposes prioritizing stream monitoring by identifying watersheds that rely on hydrologic data for conservation initiatives.  The authors explain that long-term data, and thus a hydrometric network of monitoring stations, is needed for sustainable water management.  Here, knowledge is power: it is imperative to know how much water is available, where it is available, and when it is available.

Long-term hydrologic data collected through hydrometric networks is used to evaluate climate effects on freshwater resources, to track changes in river or stream flow patterns, and to improve flood and drought forecasting.  However, two of the largest Water Information Systems, the Global Runoff Data Centre and the United States Geological Society’s National Water Information System, are shrinking in monitoring capacity due to financial vulnerability, weakening infrastructure, and shifting priorities away from long-term data collection.

The authors argue that shrinking Water Information Systems may compromise human responsiveness to water challenges and the ability to monitor freshwater biodiversity.  It is not possible to respond to global water crises if researchers cannot forecast them for lack of long-term data.  The authors identified watersheds with a “High Monitoring Need” that should be prioritized for their water scarcity, high flood risk, or high biodiversity.  Coupled with policy recommendations for the maintenance of hydrometric networks, this prioritization strategy may secure the continuation of long-term data needed for sustainable water management.

You may visually explore the data used in this study, including stream gage distribution and stressed watersheds in the United States, here.

You may read the full study, published in Nature Sustainability, here.

Job Announcement: Freshwater-eScience Research Scientist

Greenland Melt Stream

Civil and Environmental Engineering and the eScience Institute have an outstanding opportunity for a Research Scientist/Engineer 4 at the University of Washington, Seattle Campus.

The Research Scientist/Engineer will provide research support and develop leadership in the interdisciplinary Freshwater Initiative in collaboration with College of Engineering, College of the Environment, and UW Tacoma researchers.  This field of research spans and intersects Civil Engineering, Environmental Science, Computer Science, and Data Science. We are seeking to enhance our impact in computational sciences for interdisciplinary research, made possible due to additional funding from the Mountain to Sea Strategic Research Initiative to support the Freshwater Initiative.  This position will coordinate with eScience research staff, which includes researchers from many fields, including physical, mathematical and biological sciences, to expand the footprint of engagement between eScience and Freshwater.

This position will plan and execute research programs in collaboration with Freshwater faculty and other researchers through independent research activities.  This will include research project formulation, research project execution, research project publication, software development, graduate and undergraduate student mentorship, and other activities designed to advance research in Freshwater systems.  This position will report to the Freshwater Faculty Director and work closely with the Freshwater Executive Director and UW eScience Institute Executive Directors.  This position will collaborate with colleagues who are both researchers at UW (professors, other professional staff, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students) and users (domain experts within .gov and NGO stakeholders).  Because this effort is both a research project and a technology and training delivery project, its requirements can change rapidly.  The successful candidate will need to adapt to different roles and responsibilities as requirements change, and act as a key point of contact for the project across different organizational units.


  • PhD in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics with research focus on water resources questions that include expertise in working with large spatial datasets and complex numerical models.
  • At least 4 years of experience with hydrologic modeling and hydrologic data analysis.


  • Working knowledge of current field and hydrologic modeling methods to assess Freshwater systems.
  • Experience working with and managing large, long-term data sets derived from models, field experiments and observational studies.
  • Demonstrated experience in applying data science tools to aquatic science and/or hydrologic science research needs
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills and the ability to work both independently and as part of a dynamic team environment.
  • Competence with qualitative and quantitative data analysis and associated software such as R, Python and Matlab.
  • Demonstrated experience in publishing water-related scientific research and communicating effectively through writing and presentations.
  • Demonstrated ability to interact in a collaborative manner with other team members to accomplish organizational goals.
  • Demonstrated experience in coordinating projects in geospatial data hack training and educational programs.
  • Demonstrated experience in providing mentoring.

More details about the position and information about how to apply can be found here.

Call for Abstracts: 9th Annual Northwest Climate Conference

Foggy Forest

Call for Abstracts Now Open!

The call for abstracts for the 9th Annual Northwest Climate Conference – Working Together to Build a Resilient Northwest is now open. Submit your abstract for special sessions, oral presentations, and posters by Friday, June 8, 2018 to the abstract submission page.

The 9th Annual Northwest Climate Conference will be held October 9-11, 2018 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, Idaho.

Submissions are requested for a range of topics focused on climate and adaptation. Presentations and special sessions that connect science to management decisions and implementation of adaptation actions are strongly encouraged. Emphasis is on talks that are comprehensible to a wide audience on topics of broad interest. Potential topic areas include:

• Agriculture: impacts and adaptations
• Aquatic ecosystems: impacts and adaptations
• Coastal issues and shoreline management: impacts and adaptations
• Collaboration and co-production of decision-relevant research
• Communicating climate risks
• Economics of adaptation (e.g., costs of inaction, benefits of adaptation)
• Equity and climate justice
• Extreme events (e.g., drought, floods, wildfire): impacts and adaptations
• Forests and forest ecosystems: impacts and adaptations
• Hazard mitigation planning
• Human health: impacts and adaptations
• Hydrology and water resources: impacts and adaptations
• Infrastructure and the built environment: impacts and adaptations
• Insurance and risk management: impacts and adaptations
• Nearshore and marine ecosystems: impacts and adaptations
• Regional climate variability and change
• Terrestrial ecosystems: impacts and adaptations
• Tribal communities: impacts and adaptations
• Working across organizational or sectoral boundaries

More about the conference. The NW Climate Conference annually brings together more than 300 researchers and practitioners from around the region to discuss scientific findings, challenges, and solutions related to the impacts of climate on people, natural resources, and infrastructure in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. The conference aims to stimulate a place-based and cross-disciplinary exchange of information about emerging climate, climate impacts, and climate adaptation science and practice in the Northwest. The conference also provides a forum for the presentation of emerging policy and management goals, objectives, and information needs related to regional climate impacts and adaptation. Conference participants include policy- and decision-makers, resource managers, and scientists from academia, public agencies, sovereign tribal nations, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.  More details can be found at

Get to Know the Center for Urban Waters

CUW with Mt. Rainier

By Nina Zhao

Located along the shores of Commencement Bay in Tacoma, WA, the Center for Urban Waters is a revolutionary research facility designed with the environment in mind.  The founding partners of the Center for Urban Waters – the City of Tacoma, the University of Washington-Tacoma, and the Puget Sound Partnership – are committed to seeing this unique, innovative water research facility grow along with water research demands.

The vision for this premier research center goes back to 2002 and a group of community leaders committed to restoring and protecting the Puget Sound.  With generous endowment from both government and private parties, the Center began to welcome its tenants in 2010, after nearly a decade of endeavor.

Today, the Center for Urban Waters is home to researchers dedicated to routine environmental monitoring of the Puget Sound region, scientists exploring both fundamental and applied environmental research questions, and policymakers focused on using the latest science to develop effective environmental restoration and stewardship strategies.  Here, science, engineering, and policy meet for sustainable growth of the Puget Sound.

The Center itself is a masterpiece in pollution control and sustainable energy usage.  Under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system, the Center for Urban Waters boasts a Platinum certification, the highest possible designation.  Building construction favored locally and sustainably manufactured materials.  More than 99% of the waste generated during construction was recycled.

Impervious surface rainwater runoff delivers harmful pollutants into urban waterways (which is a hot research topic at the Center).  The Center for Urban Waters building mitigates this runoff by using pervious pavers and rain gardens, which allow for natural filtration of rainwater, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for beneficial birds and insects.  Geothermal wells and natural sunlight and ventilation save energy while heating and cooling the building.  Additionally, water reuse systems and efficient plumbing fixtures help the Center consume 46% (or 400,000 gallons) less water per year than conventional facilities of the same size.

Freshwater Initiative researchers Joel Baker, Edward Kolodziej, and Andy James work on cutting-edge environmental problems at the Center for Urban Waters.  Their research addresses issues of pre-spawn mortality of Coho salmon, urban stormwater runoff, and agricultural runoff pollution in the state of Washington.  Their work is made possible in part by the impressive analytical capabilities of the Center for Urban Waters, including machinery to detect heavy metal and organic chemical contamination in water.  For more about the Center’s analytical prowess, please visit their website.

More details about the Center for Urban Waters can be found on their website, including virtual facility tours and student internship opportunities.