VICKSBURG, Miss. – A Los Angeles District biologist is working to expand the capabilities of modeling software in hopes of creating a better understanding of hydrological effects on plant habitat along rivers in the Southwest.
Christopher Solek, Environmental Resources Branch, Planning Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, is conducting the work as a 2019 participant in the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s outreach program, ERDC University.
He is one of six team members from across the Corps selected to participate in this year’s program, which kicked off in March.
Now in its fourth year, ERDC University partners Corps’ engineers and scientists with ERDC subject matter experts to apply and implement technical solutions to projects over a six-month period.
While many participants conduct their projects at one of ERDC’s seven laboratories in Mississippi, Solek is conducting his project in his home state of California.
He and his ERDC mentors – Charles Theiling, an aquatic ecologist, and Waleska Echevarria-Doyle, a hydraulic engineer – are partnering with the Hydrologic Engineering Center, Institute for Water Resources, in Davis, California.
The group is looking to extend the capabilities of the center’s “River Analysis System” hydrologic modeling software and its “Riparian Vegetation Simulation” module for flood-risk management and ecosystem restoration feasibility projects in southern California.
During the last decade, the ERDC Environmental Lab has been collaborating with the center to develop riparian vegetation and water quality modules that complement the established hydraulic modeling software; however, the modules have yet to be adapted to rivers and streams in the arid Southwest.
Solek, Theiling and Echevarria-Doyle are working to adapt the riparian module for the Santa Ana River, the largest coastal draining watershed in southern California.
Riparian vegetation is important for the health of waterways and contributes to the balance of oxygen, nutrients and sediment, while also providing food and habitat for river fauna.
Because Theiling and Echevarria-Doyle’s research focuses on ecological and hydraulic modeling, respectively, Solek said, their complementary expertise will provide a better understanding of the large-scale hydrologic effects on plant habitats along rivers, stream margins and banks.
“This will allow the module to better simulate the lifecycle of riparian vegetation,” he said, “including seed dispersal, seedling establishment, plant growth and mortality in response to the dynamic physical conditions specific to this river system.
“While working to adapt the riparian module for the Santa Ana River, the knowledge gained from the project will not only be applicable to the center’s River Analysis System development for other rivers and streams in southern California, but it also could be informative to module development for waterways throughout the arid Southwest.”
Solek anticipates the project will be completed by August.
ABOUT ERDC UNIVERSITY
Now in its fourth year and sponsored by the ERDC Office of Research and Technology Transfer and the Directorate of Human Capital, ERDC-University partners Corps’ division and district participants with ERDC subject matter experts to apply and implement technical solutions over a six-month period.
The goal of the program is to transition technologies between ERDC and the Corps to strengthen the technical knowledge base and to provide developmental opportunities to the Corps’ engineers and scientists, while working on real-world solutions, according to the ERDC University’s website.
“I first heard about ERDC University through my orientation program when I started with the LA District in 2017, but I gained a more in-depth knowledge of the program through a former colleague, who participated in it in 2018,” Solek said. “My participation in the program provides the much needed continuity for the LA District to complete a large, integrated hydraulics-habitat effects analysis to support a high-priority civil works project on the Santa Ana River.”
ERDC University’s kickoff week featured briefings at the Vicksburg headquarters, followed by tours of four of the seven laboratories, located throughout the 700-acre campus.
Solek said he enjoyed his first-time visit to both the ERDC campus and Vicksburg.
“I was impressed by all of the ERDC laboratories and the quality of the presentations by ERDC staff during our facility tours,” he said. “I think the scale of the work with which ERDC is involved and the sheer size of the research facilities is what impressed me most.”
He also said he found the research being conducted in the fish flume, coastal simulation and blast labs very interesting and on a scale that would not be possible at most other research institutions.
“Districts need to be made aware of the high-caliber facilities that ERDC provides,” Solek said. “These resources can help support districts in answering their most challenging technical and management questions.
“This experience will not only assist me in becoming a skilled user of the Hydrologic Engineering Center’s modules and software, it allows me to cultivate important professional relationships with ERDC staff that were established in 2018. This will ultimately assist the LA District in realizing ERDC lab capabilities and technical resources for its regional projects to the greatest extent possible.”