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Finding the Sweet Spot How developing a top collegiate golf course revitalized its natural water hazards and fostered new research

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.

Teeing Off

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 1st hole of the U.S. Senior Open, which runs along Juday Creek.

Thanks to Notre Dame professors studying the stream, community watershed groups fighting to improve it, and federal regulations protecting waterways, Notre Dame embarked on an ambitious plan to restore this part of Juday Creek. This meant essentially rebuilding the stream around where the new golf course would be.

“When the restoration of the stream was announced, our researchers were given a unique opportunity to be involved in the construction, creating ideal channels and ecological settings to help Juday Creek’s ecosystem thrive,” said Gary Lamberti, professor of biological sciences and one of the lead researchers on the reconstruction. “We wanted to use this as a chance to develop a more natural flow for the creek and protect it from pollutants and fertilizers that are known to negatively impact the living organisms in the stream.”

Students sampling at Juday Creek.

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.

The Turn

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.

Professor Lamberti and students study the fish population and other organisms in Juday Creek.

Today, Lamberti and Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences and director of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), continue this tradition by focusing the field component of their stream ecology class on the structure and function of Juday Creek. In these classes, undergraduate and graduate students study Juday Creek from its headwaters in the mixed farmland and suburban areas of Granger, Indiana, to where it meets the St. Joseph River at the protected Izaak Walton League property.

“Juday Creek presents a great opportunity for students to see the full scope of a stream since it begins in an agricultural setting, flows through an urbanized area before moving underground, and eventually flows to Warren Golf Course and to its confluence with the St. Joseph River,” said Tank. “Being able to study such a historically significant waterway in its diverse land use settings really highlights the impact humans can have on freshwater ecosystems and how collaborative engagement can restore systems if they become degraded.”

Juday Creek spans from farmland in Granger, alongside the U.S. Senior Open's 1st, 3rd, and 4th holes at Warren Golf Course, and into the St. Joseph River in South Bend.

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.

A part of ND-ECI, ND-LEEF is a globally unique research facility at St. Patrick's County Park in South Bend.

For example, Tank’s research team studies fertilizer runoff from farms and how to reduce its impact using agricultural conservation practices. At ND-LEEF, this means investigating how the stream bottom – like rocks, pebbles, and sand, which are colonized by aquatic algae, fungi, and bacteria – can affect nutrient removal from water. By working at the facility, the researchers can control stream chemistry, flow, and the environmental context to better understand how nutrient imbalances can negatively impact freshwater resources.

“Hydrology and aquatic ecology are areas of strength at Notre Dame. Part of that is because we have distinctive resources for these studies, like Juday Creek, ND-LEEF, and UNDERC, and because we have several talented researchers studying different areas in these fields,” said Diogo Bolster, associate director of ND-ECI for ND-LEEF, professor of civil & environmental engineering & earth sciences (CEEES), and Frank M. Freimann Collegiate Chair in Hydrology.

Kyle Bibby

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.

Kyle Doudrick

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.

Alan Hamlet

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.

Stuart Jones

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.

Research at UNDERC field sites enhances understanding of natural and human-altered environments.

“Ecology is critical and we need to value it. This goes hand-in-hand with recreational activities like golf,” said Bolster. “People who want to keep enjoying golf courses and other outdoor activities, by default, should cherish water resources and ecology, too. At Notre Dame, our mission to be a force for good empowers our research in areas like hydrology and aquatic ecology, which can help ensure the world’s recreational facilities and natural wonders are there for future generations to enjoy as we have.”

About

The University of Notre Dame is a private research and teaching university inspired by its Catholic mission. Located in South Bend, Indiana, its researchers are advancing human understanding through research, scholarship, education, and creative endeavor in order to be a repository for knowledge and a powerful means for doing good in the world. For more information, please see research.nd.edu or @UNDResearch.

Story by Brandi Wampler

Photos by Matt Cashore, Gary Lamberti, and Jennifer Tank

Video footage by Tony Fuller

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