Transforming the impact and effectiveness of responses to “hot spots” and “hot moments” of water contamination.


All major Pennsylvania river basins have considerable nonpoint source nutrient and sediment pollution. In 2020, nearly one-third of Pennsylvania's streams were impaired, largely from agricultural runoff, abandoned mine runoff, and stormwater. Across the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware Bay, and the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds, the impairment of streams is increasing despite millions of dollars spent to improve water quality. Most nutrients reaching these waterways are transported and transformed during brief periods of time (hot moments) in discrete elements of the landscape (hot spots).

Overcoming complex barriers to the success of water quality investments

Current management solutions largely ignore biophysical hotspots, giving equal credit, irrespective of where on the landscape best management practices (BMPs) are placed. For many BMPs, pollutant removal efficiency is variable through time – successful removal dramatically decreases during large pollution events, or requires multi-year solutions, as is the case with the development of riparian buffers. Typically, these temporal dynamics are not considered when implementing management solutions; and despite overwhelming documentation that maintenance and upkeep is required to maintain pollutant removal efficiency, credit isn't always given for maintenance. Close attention to the temporal variability of BMPs is required to effectively mitigate nonpoint source pollution.

In addition to the biophysical template, complex social, cultural, policy, and economic factors impact the cost effectiveness and willingness to pay for some BMPs over others. Emerging evidence suggests that many management dollars in the U.S. are funneled to a small number of municipalities, especially those in affluent neighborhoods. This initiative aims combine biophysical hotspots and socioeconomic hotspots to create a more realistic and nuanced understanding of sweet spots in the landscape that can produce more effective, cost efficient, and equitable nutrient reductions across the Commonwealth.


Jonathan Duncan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Hydrology

Associated Members


Bradley Cardinale*
Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management

Lara Fowler*
Senior Lecturer, Penn State Law & Assistant Director IEE

Tyler Groh*
Assistant Research Professor

Margaret Hoffman*
Assistant Professor, Landscape Contracting

Heather Karsten*
Associate Professor

Heather Preisendanz*
Associate Professor

Cibin Raj*
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Matthew Royer
Assistant Research Professor, Director Agriculture & Environment Center


Elizabeth Boyer*
Professor, Water Resources

Rachel Brennan*
Associate Professor, Environmental Engineering

Daniel Brent
Assistant Professor

Shirley Clark
Professor, Environmental Engineering

Jill Felker
Lecturer, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Jennifer Fetter
Extension Educator, Water Resources

Michael Fidanza*
Professor, Horticulture

Peter Kleinman
Adjunct Associate Professor, Soil Science/USDA-ARS

Lauren McPhillips
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Meera Surendran Nair
Assistant Clinical Professor Resident, Veterinary Microbiology

Andrew Read*
Director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Nathaniel Warner
Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Hong Wu*
Stuckeman Career Development Assistant Professor in Design

Katherine Zipp
Associate Professor, Environmental & Resource Economics

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