The Nebraska Water Center received over $3.5 million in grant funding for research in 2022

Research project on a lake

In 2022, NWC researchers published 25 journal articles and received over $3.5 million in grant funding.

Each year, the Nebraska Water Center produces and funds research through various grant opportunities. In 2022, the Nebraska Water Center and Water Sciences Laboratory received over $3.5 million in grant funding to support research and related efforts. Some of these key awards are outlined below.


The Nebraska Water Center awards four 104b grants each year through funding provided by the National Institute of Water Resources and the United States Geological Survey. These grants support research done by early to mid-career faculty whose research addresses key areas of interest in water research in Nebraska. The following four grants were awarded in 2022. These projects will receive support from September 2022 through August 2023.

  • A Biological and Chemical Approach to Restoring Eutrophic Ponds in Nebraska. Aaron Mittelstet, Steven Comfort. $25,000
  • Know Your Well - Northwest (2nd year funding). Michael Leite, Daniel Snow. $7,000
  • Surface Water Antibiotic Exposure from Adjacent WWTPs, CAFOs, and Agricultural Fields. Keeley MacNeill. $24,971
  • Isotope Equipment for Water Sciences Laboratory. Trenton Franz, Daniel Snow. $25,000


In addition to the 104b grants, the National Institute of Water Resources and the United States Geological Survey provide competitive funding for six projects across the country. In 2022, the Nebraska Water Center and affiliated researchers received three of the six awards, which are outlined below.

  • Linking the Riverine Microbiome and Process Rates to Ecosystem Function in two Nebraska River Systems. Paul Ayayee, David Manning, Jessica Corman, David Rus, Mikaela Cherry. $224,151

  • Using a Coupled Surface Water/Groundwater Model Informed by Groundwater Age, Geophysics, and Vadose Zone Coring to Identify Type and Placement of Management Practices to Reduce Legacy Groundwater Nitrate Concentrations. Aaron Mittelstet, Troy Gilmore, Dan Snow, Erin Haacker. $249,977

  • Nitrate Loading and Legacy Effects on Nitrogen and Carbon Cycling in Playa Wetlands of the High Plains. John Hribljan, Paul Ayayee, Brian Tangen. $246,482

NWC has also been active in research focused on nitrate, improved modeling, and PFAS. Projects in these research areas are outlined below.


The attached project report summarizes the results of a Nebraska Environmental Trust project demonstrating subsoil injection of ground woodchips as a means for reducing nitrate leaching. Graduate student Xiaochen Dong collected over 500 soil and water samples analyzed for nitrate and other parameters to help evaluate the efficacy of subsurface carbon injection to reduce nitrate leaching under irrigated crops. Bench testing by Dr. Dan Miller, USDA ARS Agroecosystem Management Unit, using a variety of wood types (cedar, ash, pine) demonstrated that subsurface ground wood chips act as a bioreactor and effectively remove over 95% of leached nitrate beneath soils receiving fertilizer nitrogen.

  • Somdipta Bagchi’s post-doctoral research

In 2022, Somdipta had the opportunity to work in the field of unsaturated and saturated zone nitrate contamination. One of her studies dealt with determination of effectiveness of the various agricultural best management practices (ABMPs) in reducing nitrate contamination of the vadose zone at a global scale. The study involved collection of data from articles reported from all over the world addressing the same question, followed by statistical analysis to merge the findings and determine the significance of the effectiveness of ABMPs on a global scale. As per the findings of the study, the most effective ABMP is optimization of the fertilizer. Modifying the fertilization techniques by substituting inorganic fertilizers with organic fertilizers, adding nitrification inhibitors to limit nitrification of ammonia to nitrate, and using control release fertilizers to slow down the release of fertilizer synchronized with the crop demand have shown impressive results in reducing the leaching of nitrate to the vadose zone. Optimizing and scheduling irrigation according to precipitation is one of the effective suggested ABMPs. Other ABMPs such as crop rotation, tillage and land use change have been reported to play interesting roles in N-transport in the unsaturated zone.

Somdipta also had the opportunity to visit the Aquifer Storage and Restoration facility of Hastings, Nebraska and experience their initiative designed to reduce the nitrate contamination of the groundwater. It is a type of Pump-Treat-Recharge technology, where water from wells with high nitrate are pumped in, treated to low nitrate levels using reverse osmosis, and pumped back to several recharge wells.

Improved Modeling

  • Development of Data Bases for Model Development and Field Testing of Crop Models in Mid-West Farms, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural research Service Adaptive Cropping System Lab.

The University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) is the local cooperator of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Adaptive Cropping System Lab. UNL will provide local support to collect data from producers’ fields under various cropping system and land management practices. Non-destructive plant health indices data will be collected weekly, and non-destructive sampling will be done periodically by the graduate student. The collected dataset will validate the Cropping System lab’s model for different crop types. Nebraska has significantly different weather conditions and soil types, making it an exceptional natural laboratory. Along with that, Nebraska also grows a wide variety of crops. Combining different crops under different soil and weather conditions will provide a unique dataset covering many practices to validate the model. The loopholes and shortcomings identified by the entity scale data and model output will be beneficial in updating the model, which will improve model predictions.

  • Improving soil-plant-atmospheric interaction simulation models, postdoctoral research in conjunction with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Maryland.

Wenguang Sun and Sahila Beegum are post-doctoral research associates at the Nebraska Water Center, UNL, working conjunctively with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in Maryland. Both of them are working on improving soil-plant-atmospheric interaction simulation models.

Wenguang Sun: Sun’s research focuses on soybean production, specifically developing process-based mathematical models to describe soybean growth, development, yield, and soil processes in soil-plant-atmospheric systems. Sun, along with his colleagues, integrated the soybean model, GLYCIM, with energy balance algorithms to improve the simulation of photosynthesis and transpiration. This allowed for more accurate predictions of climate responses compared to older methods. Following an improved gas exchange routine, the GLYCIM was integrated with the two-dimensional soil model, 2DSOIL, to improve studies associated with root processes, water and heat flow, and nutrient transport. Sun also works on using improved processed soybean models and high-resolution downscaled climate data to investigate the impacts of future climate extremes on the U.S. Midwest soybean production. In addition, he worked on combining satellite data (e.g., sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence) into crop computational models and machine learning approaches to address the impacts of climate change and field management on soybean productivity.

Sahila Beegum: Sahila, along with her research group, incorporated the carbon dioxide (CO2) production and transport module into the soil-plant-atmospheric continuum model- Maizsim. The developed model is an effective tool in simulating the CO2 respiration from the soil under varying climate, soil, and management conditions. This model can also be used for studying long-term soil respiration and carbon dynamics in continuous or rotation cropping systems or over a larger spatial scale. Sahila also worked on improving a cotton crop simulation model, GOSSYM, for its soil, photosynthesis, and transpiration processes. GOSSYM's predictions of below-ground processes are enhanced by integrating with 2DSOIL, a mechanistic 2D finite element soil process model. The photosynthesis and transpiration are improved by incorporating Farquhar biochemical model and Ball-Berry leaf energy balance model into GOSSYM. The improved model is incorporated into a graphical user interface called CLASSIM. She also supported research on incorporating a vapor transport model into coupled soil, water, and heat model in 2DSOIL.


The linked article, published in October 2022, describes the development and application of a new method for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in water, wastewater and biosolids. The project was funded by the NWC 104b program and led by SNR graduate student Justin Caniglia. Methods make use of the new ultrahigh sensitivity Xevo TQS micro triple quadrupole mass spectrometer system purchased for the Water Sciences Laboratory in 2019. Results show an increase in PFAS loading in the treatment plant as well as losses of PFAS in surface runoff from test plots receiving treatment plant biosolids consistent with other studies.

  • As part of her post-doctoral research, Somdipta Bagchi is also working on developing a technique to degrade PFAS compounds. PFAS are a group of recalcitrant organic compounds, which are widely used in industries for manufacturing of multiple products due to their water resistant and heat resistant properties. However, because of their inert nature they are bioaccumulative and are known to have many negative impacts on human health. The technique that is being designed involves a combination of advanced oxidation and microbial processes to degrade the PFAS compound into simpler non-toxic organic compounds.