Two Shippensburg University professors recently received a $1 million grant to create a system for mapping and tracking land use in the Delaware River Basin, the source of drinking water for more than 15 million people in four states.

Dr. Claire Jantz and Dr. Scott Drzyzga, associate professors in the Department of Geography-Earth Science, obtained the grant from the William Penn Foundation to develop a land use mapping, modeling and monitoring system for the basin. The watershed stretches more than 300 miles from the Catskill Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, encompassing parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It provides water resources for about 5 percent of the U.S. population.

Jantz and Drzyzga and their students are partners with the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab and the U.S. Geological Survey on the two-year project. Together they will develop high-resolution land cover maps, land cover modeling tools and a feasibility study for long-term monitoring of land cover changes.

“All land is covered by something, be it a forest, a body of open water, an agricultural field, a 1930s grid-type subdivision, a 1990s cul-de-sac-type subdivision, an office park or a fleet of mega-warehouses,” Drzyzga said. “Land covers change over time. By examining large areas and the patterns created by many small changes, we can see and describe the processes driving landscape change.”

Current high-quality land cover maps for the basin do not exist. “A bird’s-eye view of a landscape can tell us much more than the first impressions we get from drive-by views,” Drzyzga noted.

“The ‘modeling tools’ will be a mix of existing land use plans, such as zoning and flood plain maps and ordinances; demographic and economic trends; land cover data; and computer simulation programs, as well as all the assumptions and principles that underlie them,” Drzyzga said. “Our experience and tools will help us to provide Delaware River Basin stakeholders with high-quality information about how basin resources are being used and how they will likely be used in the future.”

“Despite recent successes with preservation and restoration, there are still significant challenges facing the Delaware River Basin,” Jantz said. “Many waterways still do not meet the stated goals of the Clean Water Act to be fishable and swimmable. Population growth and associated land cover changes, including an increase in gas drilling, are a concern for water supply and water quality. Climate change brings the potential of sea level rise and more extreme droughts and flooding.”

Equally important as mapping existing land cover and developing tools for projecting future land use is tracking changes over the long term. The results of the SU project will be shared with a number of groups whose work impacts the basin.

“The data ultimately will be disseminated to scientists who are working to understand the hydrologic cycle in the basin, conservationists who are looking to preserve natural lands in the basin, and decision makers who need to evaluate the long-term impacts of different policy options,” Jantz said.

The William Penn Foundation was aware of past work by Jantz, USGS, and Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab in land use mapping and modeling in both the Delaware River Basin and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. One of the foundation’s three funding priorities is preservation of the Delaware watershed, and Jantz said there was clear benefit to applying these approaches across the Delaware drainage.

“We are excited to partner with the William Penn Foundation in support of a sustainable future in the Delaware River Basin,” Jantz said.

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets exceed $2.3 billion as of Nov. 30, 2014.