water recycling plant

Research Projects

Real-time monitoring of water quality in the Tijuana Estuary (Biggs, Mladenov)
Dec 2018-April 2022.  Funding Agency: JW Sefton Foundation
Use of telemetry and advanced sensors to measure water quality in real time.  Additional sensors are deployed in the San Diego River @ Mission Valley.

Land cover, erosion, and cross-border sediment loads in the San Diego-Tijuana Border Region (Biggs)
Jan 1, 2014-Sept 1, 2017.  Funding Agency: US Environmental Protection Agency
Determination of the sources of sediment in small, urbanized watersheds that drain to the Tijuana Estuary. Includes use of 3D imaging of stream channels.      

Water and agriculture in the Imperial-Mexicali Valleys
Use of satellite imagery, crop statistics, and mixed methods to identify hotspots of agricultural change and water use in the Imperial and Mexicali Valleys.

Water resources, including quantity and quality, are determined by the interactions of humans with the water cycle.  Water resources science attempts to understand these interactions, including the impact of population growth, institutions, economics, land use, and climate change on water resources, and the corresponding impacts of water resources on human welfare and ecosystems.

Snowmelt Processes in the National Water Model During Extreme Atmospheric River Events (McMillan)
Sep 2019 - Aug 2021. Funding agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Improving predictions of rapid snowmelt caused by Atmospheric River storm events in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains

FIRO: Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (McMillan)
Sep 2018 - Aug 2025. Funding agency: UC San Diego / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Collaborating with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to enable more effective management of reservoirs by leveraging improvements in weather and water forecasts.

Groundwater sources in San Diego's Mission Valley (McMillan, Biggs, Lai)
Nov 2017 - Dec 2020. Funding agency: City of San Diego
Using stable isotopes to track groundwater sources and surface water-groundwater interactions

Deforestation, climate and water resources in the Brazilian Amazon Basin (Biggs, de Sales)
Sept 2018-Aug 2022.  Funding agency: National Science Foundation
Modeling links among deforestation, climate, land use, and economics of households in the Brazilian Amazon Basin.

Low flow source identification with stable isotopes (Biggs, Lai)
June 2018-March 2020.  Funding agency:  County of San Diego
Use of oxygen-18 and deuterium in water to determine if water in San Diego creeks is from local or imported water.

Increasing Preparedness in the San Diego River Watershed for Potential Contamination Events (Mladenov, Verbyla, Kinoshita, Gersberg)
December 2017-February 2020. Funding agency: San Diego River Conservancy
This project evaluates various contributions to bacterial pollution of the San Diego River through traditional and novel analyses of chemicals, fecal indicator bacteria, and novel microbial and chemical markers of anthropogenic contamination during dry and wet weather.

Mitigation of anoxia, lower San Diego River (Biggs, Mladenov) 
August 2017-May 2019.  Funding agency:  San Diego River Park Foundation 
Test the effectiveness of an aeration project designed to mitigate low oxygen concentrations in the lower San Diego River, and monitor the impact of the project on BOD, DOC, nitrogen, and sediment carbon content.

Sustaining Health Tributaries of the San Diego River (Biggs)
June 2017-December 2018. Funding agency: San Diego River Park Foundation $62,000
Determine water quality of non-urban tributaries of the upper San Diego River in order to establish a baseline for comparison with urban sites. Real-time monitoring of turbidity, pH, algae, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen, and autosampling of water for analysis of major cations, anions, and nutrients.

Water Quality Response and Organic Matter Dynamics in a Restored Urban Creek (Zink, Kinoshita, Mladenov)
February 2016-February 2019. Funding agency: San Diego River Conservancy
Monitoring and analysis to determine influence of non-native vegetation removal on stream hydrology, flooding, and biological and chemical water quality parameters.

Assessing water quality and sources of nutrient loads in American Samoa watersheds (Biggs)
June 2015 to May 2016. Funding agency: American Samoa Department of Interior
Nutrients can harm coral reefs by enhancing growth of macroalgae. This project is designed to identify hotspots of nutrient loading to the coast in American Samoa and relate those hotspots to land use.

Dissolved Organic Matter Sources in Arsenic-Laden Groundwater (Mladenov)
August 2014 to July 2016. Funding agency National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation (NSF RAPID) "Toward an improved understanding of reactive organic carbon sources and arsenic mobility in reducing aquifers." Dissolved organic matter (DOM) characterization using fluorescence spectral acquisition of uncompromised sediment porewater to investigate labile and humic DOM sources in reducing environments with elevated arsenic concentrations. Read more on this NSF-funded project.

Sediment and hydrologic modeling of Los Laureles Canyon, Tijuana (Biggs) 
Jan 1, 2014-Sept 1, 2017.  Funding Agency: US Environmental Protection Agency
Determination of the sources of sediment in small, urbanized watersheds that drain to the Tijuana Estuary. Includes use of 3D imaging of stream channels.

The nearly three million people of the San Diego region currently consume over 300 million gallons of water per day. By 2100, regional forecasts predict a demand increase of 25% and import-supply decrease of 25% – clearly an unsustainable scenario. Thus, ensuring regional water security will require a multi-component solution portfolio including wastewater reuse. The City of San Diego recently concluded Advanced Purified Water Demonstration Project and plans to scale production to 18 million gallons per day by the year 2021. Moreover, the State of California is currently assessing the feasibility and safety of direct potable reuse of wastewater; however, health and safety concerns for emerging contaminants (e.g., pharmaceuticals and personal care products, potentially-toxic water- treatment byproducts, and resistant pathogens) present challenges for both researchers and policy- makers. At this intersection of water quality and public health, existing AOE faculty will conduct a comprehensive water quality assessment of public health risk in such recycled purified waters including conventional GC/MS monitoring of the current pollutants of concern, but also developing time-of- flight mass-spectrometry approaches to identify possible untargeted toxic organic compounds (unknown compounds) in the recycled purified waters.

Degradation of Oil-Derived Hydrocarbons in the Coastal Environment (Mladenov, Hoh)
March 2015-December 2018. Funding agency: Council on Ocean Affairs, Science, & Technology (COAST)
Biodegradation and irradiation experiments to determine rates of degradation for water soluble organic carbon compounds derived from industrial oil spills and natural oil seeps under realistic conditions in coastal environments.   

Increasing Preparedness in the San Diego River Watershed for Potential Contamination Events (Mladenov, Verbyla, Kinoshita, Gersberg)
December 2017-February 2020. Funding agency: San Diego River Conservancy
This project evaluates various contributions to bacterial pollution of the San Diego River through traditional and novel analyses of chemicals, fecal indicator bacteria, and novel microbial and chemical markers of anthropogenic contamination during dry and wet weather.  

Water Pathogen Knowledge-to-Practice (Water-K2P): Improving Accessibility to Data to Support Evidence-Based Approaches to Safe Water and Sanitation (Rose, Hofstra, Murphy, Verbyla)
March 2018 - October 2020. Funding agency: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The goal of this project is to create online tools that predict the flow of pathogens through treatment systems and their emissions to the environment, to assist with the interpretation of pathogen knowledge to improve the implementation of the United Nations' SDG 6 for safe water and sanitation.

Elucidating the role of PPAR signaling in pancreatic organogenesis and juvenile metabolic syndrome (Sant)
August 2020 - August 2023. Funding agency: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
The goal of this project is to examine how water pollutants, including perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) impact peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) signaling, using the zebrafish Danio rerio. Ultimately, this project seeks to identify whether exposures to these pollutants can contribute to metabolic dysfunction, such as diabetes and obesity.

Assessment of water contamination in the Tijuana River watershed: water quality and environmental inequity in the South Bay (Sant, Hoh, Dodder)
February 2020 - January 2022. Funding agency: SDSU HealthLINK Center (U54 from the National Institute of Minority Health & Health Disparities)
The objective of this work is to identify microbial, chemical, and physical water contaminants in the Tijuana River and Estuary. We hope to provide a complete assessment of water contaminants to apply for future exposure assessment and public health studies in the South Bay region of San Diego county.

Assessing Fate and Toxicity of Microplastics under Coastal Environmental Conditions (Hoh, Mladenov, Sant)
January 2021 - December 2022. Funding agency: CSU COAST
This project seeks to characterize the toxicity of microfibers and tire wear particles in marine environments. It is anticipated that this research will likely highlight environmental and public health issues associated with microfiber and microrubber marine debris that may serve to promote measures to curb the consumption and disposal of synthetic textiles and tires.

Mitigation of anoxia, lower San Diego River (Biggs, Mladenov)
August 2017-May 2019.  Funding agency:  San Diego River Park Foundation 
Test the effectiveness of an aeration project designed to mitigate low oxygen concentrations in the lower San Diego River, and monitor the impact of the project on BOD, DOC, nitrogen, and sediment carbon content.

Sustaining Health Tributaries of the San Diego River (Biggs)
June 2017-December 2018. Funding agency: San Diego River Park Foundation. $62,000
Determine water quality of non-urban tributaries of the upper San Diego River in order to establish a baseline for comparison with urban sites. Real-time monitoring of turbidity, pH, algae, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen, and autosampling of water for analysis of major cations, anions, and nutrients.

Water Quality Response and Organic Matter Dynamics in a Restored Urban Creek (Zink, Kinoshita, Mladenov)
February 2016-February 2019. Funding agency: San Diego River Conservancy
Monitoring and analysis to determine influence of non-native vegetation removal on stream hydrology, flooding, and biological and chemical water quality parameters.

Assessing water quality and sources of sediment and nutrient loads in American Samoa watersheds (Biggs)
June 2015 to May 2016. Funding agency: American Samoa Department of Interior
June 2020-August 2022.  Funding Agency: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Nutrients can harm coral reefs by enhancing growth of macroalgae. This project is designed to identify hotspots of nutrient loading to the coast in American Samoa and relate those hotspots to land use.

Dissolved Organic Matter Sources in Arsenic-Laden Groundwater (Mladenov)
August 2014 to July 2016. Funding agency National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation (NSF RAPID) "Toward an improved understanding of reactive organic carbon sources and arsenic mobility in reducing aquifers." Dissolved organic matter (DOM) characterization using fluorescence spectral acquisition of uncompromised sediment porewater to investigate labile and humic DOM sources in reducing environments with elevated arsenic concentrations. Read more on this NSF-funded project.

Advances in water reuse technology will play a critical role in securing sustainable water supplies in the future as well as recovering energy and nutrients and protecting the quality of receiving waters. Many of the strides made in water reuse have evolved as a result of the merging of water treatment and wastewater treatment, which have traditionally been viewed (and taught) as independent sub-disciplines. Now interdisciplinary research in novel technologies that, for example, address removal of contaminants of emerging concern or find new ways to treat wastewater while also generating energy is advancing the field. The use of these technologies in both large centralized applications, such as San Diego’s Pure Water Program, and in small decentralized applications, such as rural communities, new developments, or developing countries, will meet critical needs for water scarce regions.

Bioelectrochemical energy and nutrient recovery from wastewater (Dykstra)
August 2018 - present
Development and testing of a novel bioelectrochemical system to combine wastewater treatment with energy and nutrient recovery.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Aerobic and Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactors for Decentralized Water Reuse (Mladenov, Hoh, Dodder)
August 2017-July 2020. Funding agency: National Science Foundation
This project is an evaluation of trace organics and their transformation products in anaerobic and aerobic membrane reactors used in decentralized wastewater treatment systems for water reuse. Novel non-targeted analysis using GCxGC/TOF-MS techniques are applied in this research.

Wastewater Reuse to Promote Water-Energy-Food Sustainability (Mladenov)
August 2015-July 2019. Funding agency: National Science Foundation
This US-South Africa collaboration on sustainable sanitation and energy and resource recovery from wastewater is a research experience for undergraduate and graduate students. Research focuses on the food-water-energy nexus; a collaboration with scientists and engineers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to introduce US students to anaerobic wastewater treatment and other sustainable water and sanitation systems in urban and peri-urban communities of South Africa.

US-Brazil Integrating Engineering and Anthropology Research to Expand Perspectives on Water and Sustainability (Verbyla, Larkins, Mladenov, Palomo)
January 2019 - December 2021. Funding agency: National Science Foundation (NSF)
This project will enable cohorts of students from engineering, anthropology, and other sustainability-related disciplines to collaborate and study the efficacy of sanitation and wastewater treatment and reuse technologies as well as the role of culture and local perceptions on the safe recovery of energy, nutrients, and clean water from human excreta and wastewater.