Haley Lewis awarded The Botany in Action Fellowship

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Haley Lewis receives The Botany in Action Fellowship

Haley Lewis, a Ph.D. candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering, has been awarded The Botany in Action Fellowship through the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens located in Pittsburgh, PA. The Botany in Action Fellowship program fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach.

Haley’s thesis research, which is entitled “Green is the New Grey: designing green infrastructure networks to improve stormwater management and enhance biodiversity,” is well aligned with the priority of the Botany in Action program which is to develop sustainable landscapes.  The primary objective of Haley’s work is to quantify urban ecology and determine the relationships between biodiversity and the soil and water quality within established green infrastructure sites. 

The urbanization of the US has altered the landscapes that were once in place, in part, to mitigate extreme weather events naturally. The reduction of natural ground cover greatly reduces the amount of stormwater that infiltrates the ground and is evapotranspired back into the atmosphere while simultaneously increasing the amount of runoff produced. This increased runoff carries with it pollutants that can affect the health of those living near connected waterways, in addition to causing flooding associated with dense impervious cities. Aging infrastructure also poses a threat to urban and suburban areas that rely on traditional infrastructure and conveyances to help prevent disasters because of storm events. The combination of aging infrastructure and the imminent threat of climate changes calls for a synergistic approach that includes networks of monitored and controlled green infrastructure (GI) to help mitigate the effects of storm events while also providing a multitude of cascading ecological benefits. In this study, Haley will acquire data to improve the predictive knowledge and understanding of relationships between water storage, water quality and biodiversity benefits of GI.  For instance, does native vegetation with deeper root structure support higher evapotranspiration rates and improve water quality better than non-native vegetation.  A rain garden equipped with a network of sensors determines the water balance of the system and the extent evapotranspiration is affected by vegetation type. Ultimately, Haley will parameterize and validate existing stormwater models by creating modules that are informed by the data acquired.

Haley is in the 4th year of graduate study and works under the supervision of Professor Kimberly Gray on a NSF project, Catalyzing Resilient Urban Infrastructure Systems: Integrating the Natural and Built Environments, funded by the Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure program.