When competitors and fans arrived at the opening hole of the 2019 U.S. Senior Open, they were greeted by Juday Creek. Flowing through the University of Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course, the stream is home to an important aquatic ecosystem that connects to the St. Joseph River and ultimately Lake Michigan. Although a golf course may seem like a surprising location for environmental research, the creation of this course led to the restoration of the degraded waterway – making it a valuable resource for hydrology and stream ecology research for Notre Dame students and faculty today.
When the development of Warren Golf Course was announced in the mid-90s, the University had a decision to make. Juday Creek ran right through the would-be course and had a history of declining ecological health, which had negatively impacted fish – like salmon and trout that migrate from Lake Michigan – and other living organisms.
The main goal of the restoration was to limit the stream’s interaction with the regular maintenance of Warren Golf Course. To do so, a new Juday Creek channel was dug out through two wooded areas to give the creek natural curves. This “re-meandering” was vital, as over the years the original stream had been unnaturally straightened to increase the amount of drainage water it could quickly carry, making it function more like a ditch. With the help of a local environmental engineering firm, new channels were precisely sculpted and rocks and logs were strategically placed into the new waterway. These structures provide living organisms with natural habitats in place of the previous mud and sand.
Once finished, the old Juday Creek was diverted to the new one. The new stream, shaped by the informed and intentional efforts of the restoration team, flows through a forested area largely separated from golfers and maintenance crews. Now, the old Juday Creek channel has been converted into a golf course feature, recycling water through a series of pumps, visible to U.S. Senior Open attendees along the 3rd and 4th holes.
After the restoration was completed in 1997, Notre Dame researchers continued to monitor Juday Creek’s ecological response. Through funding from the U.S. Geological Survey, Lamberti, along with researcher Ron Hellenthal, now professor emeritus of biology and director of the Museum of Biodiversity at Notre Dame, began monitoring habitat complexity, fine sediment accumulation, impact of the golf course, and the recovery of animal and plant life within the creek.
“Ron and I looked at different aspects – but all of our research was aimed at understanding how the restoration was supporting the ecological system of Juday Creek,” said Lamberti. “While I evaluated the stream habitat and recovery of the fish community, Ron monitored aquatic insects, pollutants, and overall water quality. We found that over a 20-year span, the creek’s new habitat promoted the resurgence of native fish and other organisms and partly reversed the prior adverse environment. While upstream development in the watershed still has negative impacts overall, the restored section of Juday Creek is something of an oasis for aquatic organisms.”
For decades now, Lamberti’s graduate students have also used the stream as part of their research, assessing everything from algae and fish to channel shape and water flow. But long before the restoration, faculty were using Juday Creek to teach Notre Dame students about ecology, potentially dating back as early as the 1860s.
Beyond the Green
At Notre Dame, research on aquatic ecosystems branches well beyond Juday Creek and includes the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) at St. Patrick’s County Park in South Bend, Indiana and the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC), with locations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Montana. While UNDERC provides world-class destinations for environmental field research, ND-LEEF bridges the environment and laboratory with a globally-unique research facility.
Where controlling and replicating experiments is typically problematic, ND-LEEF provides researchers a place to do large-scale experiments without the challenges posed by working in the field. The facility houses experimental watersheds consisting of interconnected ponds, streams, and wetlands, as well as a state-of-the-art groundwater well field that is continuously monitored. With these features, ND-LEEF acts as the main hub for University scientists and engineers to study the environmental challenges for watersheds.
Associate Professor of CEEES and Wanzek Collegiate Chair
Kyle Bibby and his research group use ND-LEEF to investigate how far viruses can be transported in streams and how long these viruses can survive. The goal is to use this research to develop better ways to detect fecal contamination and associated viruses in waterways.
Assistant Professor of CEEES
Kyle Doudrick and his research team work with Diogo Bolster at the facility to study how nanoparticles – like those used in foods, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products – are transported in streams to help determine the impact they might have on the aquatic environment.
Assistant Professor of CEEES
Alan Hamlet and his research group use the ND-LEEF groundwater well field to study how much water is recharged to local aquifers during rain events. Information gained from this research is critical to understanding and predicting drought and flood events, both of which have global and community impact.
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
Utilizing the resources at UNDERC and ND-LEEF, Stuart Jones studies lake biogeochemistry. His research team looks at how altering the flow of water can affect the biology and chemistry of lakes to predict lake ecosystem changes under future climate and land use scenarios. With this information, the aim is to identify strategies for mitigation of undesirable aquatic environmental effects.
In addition to ND-LEEF, Notre Dame researchers are also using UNDERC, which hosts unsurpassed undergraduate education programs and innovative graduate student training. With its two locations, UNDERC aims to promote environmental research and education. During the summer, undergraduate students from academic institutions across the country and beyond can choose to engage in a 10-week ecology field course. Throughout the experience, students conduct independent research projects involving aquatic and terrestrial systems.
From helping habitats thrive to tracing the transfer of disease in waterways, hydrology and stream ecology research spans a number of projects across the University and has real-world implications. Notre Dame’s state-of-the-art facilities enable researchers to collect quality data and engage in interdisciplinary collaborations across the colleges of engineering and science to tackle environmental challenges facing the planet today.