ITEM 104-1504-R0999. Authorization to Establish the Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment: Montana Tech of The University of Montana 

THAT: The Board of Regents of Higher Education Authorizes the establishment of the Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment within the School of Mines at Montana Tech of The University of Montana 

EXPLANATION: The Board of Regents of Higher Education Authorizes the establishment of the Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment within the School of Mines at Montana Tech of The University of Montana. 

The Montana University System has been awarded a grant by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The two-year grant for $864,000 is intended to develop a statewide plan to improve our competitiveness in environmental science and engineering at the Federal level. All three research campuses of the MUS will participate in the program, which will be managed by Montana Tech of The University of Montana. The program consists of two specific campus based environmental research projects and a statewide Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP). A major part of the SIP is the establishment of the Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment (CERA) that will foster an infrastructure in the state for coordination and management of the EPA:EPSCoR Program. 

I. Purpose of the CERA

The State of Montana has recognized the need to stimulate systemic and sustainable improvements both in the quality and capability of environmental science, engineering research, and education. Most campuses of the MUS have environmental research and/or education programs in place, and some campuses have on going research and technology relationships with the State’s environmental industries. The purpose of CERA is to provide a common focus for the EPA:EPSCoR Program, identify new research funding opportunities, improve faculty collaboration within the MUS, enhance technology transfer opportunities to the State’s environmental industrial base and to further develop educational programs that meet the needs of the students and employers of the State of Montana.

II. Objectives of the CERA

The Center will promote, coordinate, and foster growth and sustainability in statewide research activities in environmental science and engineering. CERA’s specific objectives include:

 III. Anticipated activities

To accomplish the objective of a long term success and sustainability in environmental science and engineering research, CERA will;

 IV. Involved agencies, organizations and/or institutions including advisory council information

Initially, the US EPA will be involved as a direct financial sponsor of CERA. Montana Tech of The University of Montana, The University of Montana –Missoula and Montana State University-Bozeman will be the founding University participants of CERA. Montana Tech Office of Research and Graduate Studies will work with the CERA Steering Committee to develop a preliminary operating structure and to appoint a Board of Governors. 

V. Organizational structure within the institution

CERA will be advised on long range issues by a Board of Governors selected from a cross section of academic, State, and industrial participants. The Center will be administratively located within the Montana Tech Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

The day to day management of CERA and the Montana EPA-EPSCoR program will be the responsibility of the Steering Committee. This committee will include Dr. Kumar Ganesan from Montana Tech of The University of Montana, as chair, and Dr. Bill Costerton and Dr. Bill Holben as co-chairs from Montana State University-Bozeman and The University of Montana-Missoula respectively.

VI. Interrelationships of CERA to the institutional role and scope

CERA’s mission is to promote and enhance collaborative research among the MUS campuses in environmental related fields. This mission is with in the scope and role of all the charter institutions of the MUS. 

VII. First year and continuing finances necessary

The US EPA has provided $432,000 of startup funding for CERA for two years. State of Montana matching funds in the amount of $432,000 will be sought for these two years as required by the EPA grant. Long term stability will be pursued by a combination of industrial participation and competitive Federal research funds. 

VIII. Similar programs in the state and surrounding region

Active and effective Interdisciplinary Research Centers for Environmental Studies exist at several Universities in the Northwest. Similar Interdisciplinary Centers are:

North Dakota

University of North Dakota

South Dakota

South Dakota State

Colorado

Colorado State University

Colorado School of Mines

University of Colorado-Denver

Idaho

University of Idaho: IDAHO EPSCoR

Montana

Montana State University

Montana Tech of The University of Montana

University of Montana--Missoula

Utah

University of Utah

Washington

Washington State University

Wyoming

University of Wyoming

The number and variety of these Centers is strong testimony to the positive effect they can have on developing programs related to the specific environmental and economic needs of the host state. 

IX. Faculty expertise available for participation in CERA

Two faculty research teams and two Post Doctoral appointments will be initial participants in CERA. Summaries of the projects follow. Full project descriptions are included in the Appendices.

Research Project by The University of Montana-Missoula:

Summary: As primary producers and consumers, microbes can serve as early indicators of perturbation in the ecosystem before effects are manifested at higher trophic levels. The proposed research focuses on the impact of metal contamination on the structure and function of microbial communities in riverine systems.

Research Faculty:

William E. Holben, Associate Professor of Microbiology

Molecular Microbiology Ecology Department

Division of Biological Sciences

406/243-6163

Johnnie N. Moore, Professor of Geology

Department of Geology

406/243-2341

James Gannon, Associate Dean

Division of Biological Sciences

406/243-4184

Research Project by MSU-Bozeman:

Summary: Results of our current work on arsenic (As) bio-geochemistry in As-contaminated mine tailing and naturally As-contaminated soils in Montana have made it clear that studying microbial As redox activity in these environments is inseparable from the study of As speciation and that understanding the microbial ecology of such environments is essential to predicting As chemistry and behavior in nature. Our experiments have shown that As speciation does not follow simple chemical or thermodynamic equilibria; i.e. high levels of As(V) reduction under oxidizing conditions and high levels of As(III) oxidation under anaerobic conditions. A more detailed analysis of the linkage between microbial community structure and the observed redox activity is essential to understanding the relationships among As geochemistry, As transport, and As bioavailability. The proposed work will complement our current environmental As chemistry work and integrate directly with the research described by Holben et al. From The University of Montana in the SEER-2 proposal.

Research Faculty:

Timothy R. McDermott, Assistant Professor

Soil & Environmental Microbiology

Department of Land Resource and Environmental Sciences

406/994-2190

William P. Inskeep, Professor

Soil & Environmental Chemistry

Department of Land Resource and Environmental Sciences

406/994-5077

Post Doc and Project Description by Montana Tech of The University of Montana

The post doctoral fellow at Montana Tech of The University of Montana will promote research in the area of biological systems and work with the director of CERA in developing new research projects. The individual will also write research proposals to obtain additional funding.

When CERA becomes fully operational, additional faculty will be recruited as members of the Center. Specific disciplines will be determined by a combination of faculty interest, Board of Governors recommendations, and industrial partners.

X. Campuses review and approval

The proposed Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment has been reviewed by the Montana Tech Office of Research and Graduate Studies, the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of the Chancellor. The Montana Tech Vice-Chancellor of Research and Graduate Studies, the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs and research and the Chancellor all endorse the Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment.

The proposed Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment has also been reviewed and endorsed by the Vice President for Research at Montana State University and the Vice President for Research at The University of Montana.

APPENDIX

CERA PROJECT DESCRIPTIONS

Objectives/Hypotheses: Four hypotheses will be tested regarding effects of heavy metals on water and watersheds contaminated with metals from past mining operations:

    1. Initial exposure to metals inhibits or kills sensitive organisms leaving tolerant populations as dominant, resulting in an initial net decrease in diversity.
    2. Gradual changes occur in the microbial community over time, as the resident community becomes more tolerant of metal contamination.
    3. Decreased apparent toxicity from metal contamination occurs with prolonged exposure.
    4. These bacterial community changes have fundamental implications for determining the ecological health of watersheds because of the primary role bacteria play in a host of biogeochemical processes and their position at the base of the ecosystem trophic structure.

The bacterial community response to metals contamination in terms of impacts on microbial community diversity, structure and function will be determined. In addition, the utility of monitoring bacterial community health as an indicator of overall ecosystem effects will be assessed.

Approach: The proposed studies, which compare impacted and unimpacted microbial communities in similar environmental settings, should provide important baseline information as to what constitutes a "normal" microbial community in riverine systems and how metals contamination affects microbial community diversity, structure and function. We have selected three test-sites within a watershed severely impacted by multicomponent metal contamination representing high and moderate metals concentrations. Each site is matched with a reference site having the same hydrology, channel morphology, geology, and climate. At each site, the water column and river substrate environments will be characterized geochemically in conjunction with detailed microbial community analyses. In situ experiments include biomass, lipid, and activity analyses using incubation, extraction, and radiolabel methods. Molecular methods will be used to establish microbial community structure DNA isolated directly from environmental samples. Each analysis will be applied to natural and artificial substrates over a range of metal concentrations to determine the response of the bacterial community to a spectrum of multicomponent metals contamination.

Expected Results: This project will provide important information regarding the use of microbial community structure and function as a fundamental indicator of ecosystem health by which we can assess trophic level changes in riverine systems. Primary products of this research will be improved risk assessment of metal contamination in rivers and watersheds and monitoring responses to different management practices at a fundamental ecosystem level based on bacterial community indicators.

Research Project by Montana State University-Bozeman

Objectives: The three objectives of this project are:

    1. Examine the effects of As concentration, carbon and oxygen availability, and pH on As redox kinetics and As specia equilibria, As reducer/oxidizer population dynamics, and overall microbial community structure and diversity.
    2. Isolate and/or enrich for As reducing/oxidizing organisms and consortia and conduct initial characterization of their phylogeny, basic biochemistry, and physiology as they pertain to As redox activity.
    3. Conduct in situ experiments to verify laboratory prediction obtained with batch and column incubations, enriched consortia, and pure culture isolates.

Approach: Relationships between As speciation and microbial activity will be determined by comparing As redox kinetics (following total As, As(III), and As(V) with microbial population dynamics within a treatment matrix that will include As concentration, carbon availability, O2 availability, and pH. Microbial community-level analyses will include (RT)PCR-DGGE to Monitor shifts in total diversity. 16S rDNA sequence information obtained from PCR-cloned DNA will be used to design genotype-specific molecular probes, and functional gene probes will be used to tract the occurrence of relevant genes in the populations of interest. Enrichment culture and dilution-extinction techniques will be used to identify and isolate As redox cycling microbes. Unculturable microbes affected by the treatment matrix will be identified by (RT)PCR-DGGE coupled with sequencing of PCR-cloned 16S rDNA. Isolated organisms and enriched consortia will be characterized for their ability to oxidize or reduce As, with the latter being differentiated between dissimilatory reduction (i.e. electron acceptor) vs detoxification. We will use the same samples from the Silver Bow Creek and Clark Fork river as described by Holben et al (sites 3T and 1R in Table 1 of SEER 2 of the University of Montana proposal).

Expected Results: This study will begin the first detailed analysis of specific microorganisms participating in As transformations in contaminated soils and river sediments. An understanding of the microbial community structure important in As redox cycling under different environmental conditions will improve our current capabilities to predict As transport and bioavailability and our ability to evaluate management alternatives for the remediation of As contaminated sites.