A $100,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will allow the Lumber River Conservancy (LRC) and its partners in the UNC Pembroke biology department to study the effects of agricultural runoff, drought, and recent hurricanes on the river’s overall health. The results will help the LRC, regulatory agencies and members of the community make decisions to protect the river and improve its water quality.
The LRC is a non-profit, land trust organization that strives to preserve the Lumber River for natural, scenic and recreational purposes. The conservancy played an instrumental role in the development of Lumber River State Park, and has protected more than 4,000 acres of land that adjoin the river in Scotland, Robeson, Hoke and Columbus counties.
Dr. Joseph White, executive director of the LRC and lecturer in the UNCP biology department, said grant funds will support research that will be crucial to understanding the river’s delicate ecosystem.
“This research will dovetail nicely with the LRC’s mission of understanding the river and what threatens it,” White said. “The findings of the project can help us understand how to best move forward” to protect the river.
Grant funds will help purchase equipment, materials and testing kits to collect water samples and analyze the river’s microbial health and composition, said Dr. Conner Sandefur, assistant professor of biology.
“The river’s microbial communities really give us an indication of its health,” said Sandefur, who will lead scientific study under the grant along with Dr. Lisa Kelly and Dr. Amber Rock of the biology faculty. “In general, the more diverse the array of species in the water, the more the water is able to get rid of pollutants.”
Sandefur said the research will help the LRC and researchers understand the effect of various nutrients on the river’s microbial health. “Part of the grant goes toward understanding if there are nutrient excesses, such as extra nitrogen from agricultural runoff, in certain areas and how that affects the microbial communities.”
UNCP students will have the chance to participate in the research work, experience which will provide them with skills that graduate schools and employers are looking for, White said.
“If they’re going to get a job in a major research lab, or want to attend graduate school, I think this type of experience is important,” White said. “They will get to work on modern equipment and gain experience managing and understanding the data generated from this work.”
Results from the study, which will be completed in 2020, will be published in scientific journals and shared with policymakers to guide efforts to preserve the river.
“Culturally, the Lumber River is very important to this community,” Sandefur said. “So that makes it important to understand the river and protect it.”
The Duke Energy Foundation provides philanthropic support to address the needs of communities where its customers live and work. The foundation provides more than $30 million annually in charitable gifts. The foundation’s education focus spans kindergarten to career, particularly science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), early childhood literacy and workforce development. It also supports the environment and community impact initiatives, including arts and culture.