Nearly $2 million grant to focus on water quality improvement by restored wetlands

Tennessee Tech University is the recipient of a $1.957 million grant that will allow researchers to assess nutrient removal abilities of restored wetlands within agricultural watersheds in Tennessee and Kentucky. The grant is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), and will be implemented in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

 Justin Murdock (right) and Alfred Kalyanapu will lead Tech’s team evaluating wetlands enrolled in the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program. “Nutrient runoff into streams from agricultural fields is a major issue in agricultural ecosystems and areas downstream receiving this water,” said Justin Murdock, the project’s principal investigator, associate professor of biology and interim director of Tech’s Center for the Management, Utilization and Protection of Water Resources. “Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can lead to harmful algal blooms, low oxygen availability, fish kills and lower overall aquatic habitat quality. This research will quantify the nutrient removal ability of restored agricultural wetlands, with an aim at determining how restoration practices within a wetland influences water quality.”

Murdock and co-principal investigator Alfred Kalyanapu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will lead Tech’s team evaluating wetlands enrolled in the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program. The grant will also support four Ph.D. students and other researchers at Tech during the four-year investigation.

Tech’s researchers will assess wetland nutrient retention performance of river floodplain wetlands in agricultural areas of Tennessee and Kentucky. A total of 40 sites across western Tennessee and Kentucky will be assessed.

“Research will be focused on river floodplain wetlands located along the major rivers in Tennessee and Kentucky that flow directly into the Mississippi River,” Murdock said. “These wetlands often receive substantial amounts of water from both the river and surrounding watershed during large rains and filter the water as is moves across the watershed. We are looking at how different characteristics of the wetland influence nutrient retention, including water residence time, soil structure, microbial community composition, and vegetation.”

This project is part of a larger effort that creates a partnership among Tennessee Tech, USDA NRCS, The Nature Conservancy, Murray State University, the University of Missouri, and Middle Tennessee State University.

In addition to water quality and nutrient retention benefits, this larger project will investigate improvements in vegetation, waterfowl use, aquatic habitat and biodiversity.

This research is also supported by Tech’s Water Center, one of the three Centers of Excellence housed at Tennessee Tech. The Water Center is an interdisciplinary research center that facilitates and supports faculty members across departments with research focusing on aquatic ecology and biodiversity, water research technologies and tools, water security and sustainability, and the intersection of water, energy and food resources.

More information about this project and other Tech water research can be found at

Return to News Room