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University of Washington associate professor Ed Kolodziej

PSI collaborator receives NSF grant to study coho deaths

PSI collaborator Ed Kolodziej has received a $330,000 National Science Foundation grant to expand his research on toxic pollutants in Puget Sound. Kolodziej’s project will identify chemicals in stormwater that are killing coho salmon and endangering some spawning runs. The project includes a collaboration with citizen scientists who will alert project members to salmon die-offs as they are happening. Kolodziej’s team will then collect water and tissue samples from these sites that they will analyze at the labs of PSI’s parent group the Center for Urban Waters.

Project summary

In rapidly urbanizing areas of the Unites States, stormwater runoff is a major water quality and treatment problem because it accumulates many harmful chemicals from our homes, roads, and cities as it flows downstream. However, the chemical make-up of urban stormwater runoff is poorly understood although it is known to be harmful to fish and aquatic ecosystems (often called “urban stream syndrome”). This project will focus on identifying toxic chemicals in urban stormwater, especially focusing on understanding the link between stormwater pollution and observations of acute mortality in adult coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest. This project will measure harmful pollutants in stormwater so we can better manage urban water quality and protect fish such as the economically and culturally important coho salmon. Citizen scientists will help monitor watersheds for salmon mortality as it happens, and alert project researchers to collect water and tissue samples during acute mortality events. The project will work with citizen science groups, regional agencies, and the Center for Urban Waters (Tacoma, WA) to collaborate with local, regional, state, and tribal communities who are very interested in protecting salmon for economic and cultural reasons.

Relative to well-studied urban pollutant sources such as municipal wastewater effluent, very little is known about the chemical composition of urban stormwater runoff despite its importance as a major source of chemical pollutants to receiving waters.In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, an unexplained acute mortality phenomena occurs widely in urbanized watersheds where 50-100% of adult coho salmon quickly (1-4 h) perish after urban stormwater exposure.Because salmon mortality occurs prior to spawning and severely compromises reproductive output, local extinctions and failed stream restoration efforts focused on salmon habitat and health are expected. This project will focus on characterizing the identity and quantity of novel contaminants in urban stormwater using high-resolution mass spectrometry, especially seeking to identify stormwater contaminants with problematic structures (e.g. metabolic poisons that inhibit mitochondrial electron transport and induce cellular hypoxia).Water and tissue samples collected by citizen scientists will be screened using broad spectrum, suspect and non-target analyses to identify novel pollutants in urban stormwater. Chemical bioactivity will be selectively screening via in-silico receptor docking to detect novel bioactivity from high interest detections. Collaborating with ongoing ecotoxicology efforts, selective fractionation and chemical screening will be used to identify toxicant candidates in toxicologically active samples and link toxicant chemical characteristics to typical stormwater runoff treatment systems mechanistically. Project outputs will be broadly disseminated through collaboration and outreach efforts to local and regional citizen science programs. Through the project affiliation with the Center for Urban Waters, additional outreach to local, regional, state, and tribal stakeholders, many of them very interested in salmonid health for economic and cultural reasons, will occur.Project collaborations will include regional municipalities and agencies such as the Puget Sound Partnership, a Washington state agency dedicated to protecting the Puget Sound ecosystem, as well as NOAA-NMFS researchers and regulators focused on the health of economically important salmon populations. Via project characterization efforts, the management of urban stormwater quality can be improved by improved capabilities for chemical source control and optimization of treatment technologies.

Related story in Salish Sea Currents: What is killing the coho?