Temple University's Department of Earth & Environmental Science is part of a wide-ranging effort to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watershed, the source of drinking water for 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Funded by the William Penn Foundation and known as the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), the $40m effort will support the work of 65 non-governmental organizations and researchers, including Professor Laura Toran through $1.1m in research funding for her lab.

"The focus of our work is to provide monitoring of suburban Philadelphia stormwater improvement efforts," says Toran, who notes that the William Penn Foundation has been funding Temple's watershed research efforts for nearly a decade. "Currently there are numerous regulations in place, but not enough understanding on what is truly effective."

For Toran, one of the biggest challenges in an urban watershed is simply defining what makes a good one. "We aren't 100 percent sure what a healthy urban watershed should be," she says, "so we first must define that and then work to make it replicable across the region and in other regions."

Having so many partners involved in the effort is a great advantage, according to Toran. "We know where the projects are happening and our team can do pre- and post-construction monitoring to measure overland flow of water and infiltration rates, which is the speed at which water enters the soil."

In the 13,500-square-mile Delaware River watershed, rapid population growth and resulting urban and suburban sprawl are driving significant impacts to the watershed by shrinking and fragmenting forests that are critical to protecting clean water. Runoff from paved surfaces and agricultural fields carry pesticides, chemicals and other toxins into our streams and rivers. These growing problems will threaten drinking water for millions of people if left unaddressed.

"Urban hydrology is a challenge and one way we tackle it is with collaborations like DRWI, that provide dedicated funding and talented researchers," says Toran. The William Penn Foundation grant was instrumental in attracting promising younger researchers to Temple such as doctoral candidate Ashley Kirker, from the College of Charleston, who earned a highly competitive Temple University Fellowship, and Sarah Beganskas, a postdoctoral scholar from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"This project is attracting top-notch people to Temple, the next generation of scientists who will move this important work forward," Toran says. "We have a powerful team."