News Release

K-State researchers use Colbert Hills process to study ecosystem of former landfill site...

for proposed golf course at Western Michigan

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Kansas State University

MANHATTAN, KAN. - It plays on the prairie of Kansas' Flint Hills but will it play on a western Michigan landfill?

Researchers from Kansas State University are assisting their counterparts at Western Michigan University to determine if the environmental evaluation model developed at Colbert Hills Golf Course can be applied to a new course being built on a former landfill site. The research team, headed by Steve Thien, professor of agronomy, and Steve Starrett, associate professor of civil engineering, will be applying the same process researchers used at K-State to study the ecosystem quality before, during and after construction of Colbert Hills' pristine prairie site. The research team also includes Bob Bauernfeind, professor of entomology; Walt Fick, associate professor of agronomy; and Rob Robel, professor of biology.

The researchers set out on a five-year project to study the "big picture" of the ecosystems on the Colbert Hills prairie site -- water quality, plants, amphibians, insects, etc., including some studies before construction began.

"We found basically what you would expect, " Thien said. "(The land) was in pretty good shape before the bulldozers. While the bulldozers were there, a lot of things were disrupted. Now that the grass is back -- a different kind of grass -- things are in pretty good shape again. Not like they were on the original prairie but moving toward that situation. "

More important than finding some expected patterns, Thien said they developed a methodology for describing the quality of a whole ecosystem. They will share that expertise with Western Michigan in the form of a transportable process that involves monitoring several indicators that revolve around plants, animals, soil and water quality.

For every indicator, researchers will establish an upper and lower control limit. If those indicators fall within a "sustainable range," the ecosystem is okay. However, if any indicators fall either above or below that sustainable range, it points to a possible remediation problem.

In conducting their own research for Colbert Hills, the research team put all those indicators into a spider-radar graph capable of illustrating a simplified overview of the ecosystem there.

Thien said the process is applicable on any kind of ecosystem; it can also be used on public lands, parks, agricultural lands, etc. It is so flexible that scientists can monitor any indicator they want and group similar indicators into descriptive categories. This feature makes the process applicable to the whole range of systems.

"The scientists must know what the best indicators are to monitor," Thien said. "If they take the same set of indicators we're following and use it down in Florida, it may not tell them anything. You have to match indicators to the situation."

It is that transportable process that Western Michigan and others are interested in.

"They don't want to know the exact conditions at Colbert Hills because their ecosystems are different, Thien said. "They want to know how to apply our process so that they can monitor the most applicable indicators to their building and development stages to assure that the ecosystem is not being damaged or maligned in some way."

According to Thien, potential problems with landfill sites are that noxious materials in that landfill may tend to volatilize and come up through the soils or that some of the water use on the course may move some of those noxious materials from their deposition site in the landfill.

"Each new application begins with identifying and prioritizing possible indicators," Thien said. "Every site has its own special parameters to consider. There are probably some things that we haven't thought of yet that might be of concern there. So we're anticipating monitoring some different parameters in that case than there were in our prairie ecosystem."

Thien and Starrett plan to tour the site in the spring to "give a little more hands-on assistance" on how K-State used the process and how Western Michigan can adapt it for their own use.

"We want to keep the findings simplified for public information usage, but base it on proper science. If we can have a science-based evaluation system, then we will be able to follow environmental quality and identify parameters that aren't meeting expectations. People want to know how golf courses, landfills or any public land is affecting the environment."

Thien and his group have published that process in two golf industry publications -- Golf Course Management and the USGA Green Section Record. The Western Michigan project is the second site the team has provided their expertise. Previously the golf course at the Presidio military installation near San Francisco requested their assistance.


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