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Grad student earns EPA grant to clean up Antelope Creek
A UNL graduate student is using an Environmental Protection Agency grant to help clean up a Lincoln watershed.
Jeffrey Polkowski earned the EPA award through his courses at UNL and his work as an intern for the City of Lincoln’s watershed management program. The project, called the Antelope Park Sub-Basin Water Quality Project, is designed to reduce above-average levels of E. Coli in Lincoln’s Antelope Creek. He plans to use a variety of landscape projects to filter water that runs into the creek.
“The whole point of the project is to slow water down and let it naturally break down pollutants,” Polkowski said. “Rather than battling the environment, we are learning to coexist with it.”
The goal is to clean runoff water before it reaches the creek. The work is needed after a study confirmed that E. Coli bacteria pollution in the creek is higher than federal health standards allow, Polkowski said.
Since the start of the project in March, Polkowski has already received upwards of 60 applications and has had six projects completely approved, he said.
Installing a rain garden to temporarily hold rain water runoff, allowing it to soak into the soil
Removing unwanted pavement to allow more space for landscaping, reduce storm water runoff, reduce temperatures during summer months and allow for natural groundwater recharge
Redirecting downspouts to allow storm water to flow across the lawn or into a garden
Redirecting runoff from driveways and parking lots to keep storm water out of storm drains by channeling it to rain gardens or other plant areas
Seeding lawns with hardier turf — a blend of low-growing grasses with deep fibrous root systems — which also keep the lawn greener with less maintenance.
Those interested in participating in the cost-share program must submit an application. Once it is reviewed, Polkowski does a site inspection to approve the project.
The grant for up to $2,000 will pay up to 75 percent of the expenses for landscaping projects, he said. And participants have the choice of doing the projects themselves or hiring a professional landscaper — so long as Polkowski approves the landscaper’s plans. More information can be found here: http://lincoln.ne.gov/city/pworks/watrshed/grant/antelope-park/#s
Through UNL’s water resource planning and management master’s program, Polkowski said he has been able to really focus on community engagement — the main reason he chose UNL for graduate school.
The cost share program is an additional perk, he said, and reason enough to pack up a U-Haul and move from his home state of New York after earning his bachelor’s degree in earth sciences from the State University of New York at Brockport.
“These are all things I learned in my undergrad, but our master’s program is very focused on more doing and less just learning,” Polkowski said. “If I had this job in New York, I’d just be getting coffee for someone.
“I wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity in a much larger city.”