converse with CONSERVE - CONSERVE TURNS 2!

Some of the CONSERVE Mid-Atlantic team members

Some of the CONSERVE Mid-Atlantic team members

It's March 1, 2018, marking the start of Year 3 for CONSERVE: A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food, and Health (funded by the United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture). CONSERVE's ongoing research, education, and extension efforts support our goal of facilitating the adoption of transformative on-farm treatment solutions that enable the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water on food crops, effectively reducing the nation’s agricultural water challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.
To date, the progress and accomplishments of the CONSERVE team have been remarkable. To list just a few of the many Year 2 accomplishments: 

2,313 wastewater discharging facilities were mapped on our GIS platform that  focuses on characterizing the availability of nontraditional irrigation water sources in Arizona, California, Delaware and Maryland.
1,812 individual nontraditional irrigation water samples were collected in the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest and tested for all CONSERVE microbiological, physical and chemical water quality parameters including: pH; oxidation reduction potential; turbidity; conductivity; temperature; dissolved oxygen; salinity; nitrate nitrogen; chloride; antimicrobials; caffeine; pesticides; total bacterial diversity; indicator bacteria; and bacterial, viral and protozoa pathogens. All water samples were managed by the Data Core’s state-of-the-art Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that was custom-designed for CONSERVE.
> 900 participants participated in 4 economics experiments examining consumer preferences for food grown with traditional vs. nontraditional irrigation water sources
802 growers completed our needs assessment that was administered throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest. This work will help address an important knowledge gap regarding farmers’ views and concerns relating to nontraditional water used to irrigate food crops eaten raw.

17 regional conferences were attended by the CONSERVE Extension team to disseminate CONSERVE material and engage with key stakeholders
2 animations and 1 online video tool are in development to expose K-12 students and the public to concepts relating to agricultural water reuse--stay tuned for the upcoming release of Water, Food, and Our World.
7 undergraduate students participated in the CONSERVE Summer Internship Program with CONSERVE teams around the country. A primary goal of the program is to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) training among students from underrepresented minority groups and/or disadvantaged backgrounds

24 CONSERVE Scholars participated in a data management workshop at SESYNC (A National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center funded by the National Science Foundation), where scholars were introduced to collaborative workflows for managing data in team research projects, the use of R as an open-source software for data management and analysis, and the concept of open data
All 14 CONSERVE Co-PDs and 5 collaborators responded to an evaluation survey, focused on assessing CONSERVE’s organizational effectiveness. These data will be used to refine CONSERVE team processes, and ensure success and sustainability. Among the many strengths noted by the team included “What we are trying to accomplish with our collaborative project would be difficult for any single organization to accomplish by itself”

CONSERVE "Core-dinating" with core facilities to maximize cost-effectiveness, and reduce redundancies.
Three state-of-the-art, centralized cores serve as the bedrock of CONSERVE: the Laboratory Core (Lead: Amir Sapkota), Data Management and Analysis Core (Lead: Mihai Pop), and Administrative Core (Lead: Debra Weinstein). These three cores, all based at the University of Maryland, College Park, interface with all of the CONSERVE Activity Teams to streamline efforts as well as maintain the rigorous approaches that substantiate CONSERVE data.
The cutting edge capabilities of the Cores are described below:
Laboratory Core
      The ability to reliably identify and measure trace-level antibiotics, pesticides, and other environmental contaminants in water has important societal benefits. To maximize coordination and cost-effectiveness with regard to the lab methods that require in-depth analyses and are prone to inter-lab variability, isotope dilution liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (ID-LC-MS/MS) methods and next-generation sequencing methods are carried out on samples collected from all sites in our Laboratory Core. The Laboratory Core is directed by Dr. Amir Sapkota, who has extensive experience managing the analysis of environmental samples collected from multiple regions worldwide. The Lab Core is based in Dr. Sapkota’s Exposome Facility at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, which is fully equipped for processing and analyzing large numbers of environmental and human clinical samples for the low-level detection of chemical contaminants. 

Specifically, the Lab Core:

  • Coordinates sample chain-of-custody, sample storage and sample analysis
  • Conducts LC-MS/MS analyses on samples of nontraditional irrigation water, irrigated food crops, rhizospheric soil and groundwater to detect chemical contaminants of concern (e.g., pharmaceuticals and personal care products)
  • Performs 16S rRNA (Illumina Miseq) and metagenomics (Illumina Hiseq) sequencing analyses on the same environmental samples.
Co-PD Dr. Amir Sapkota in the Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility

Co-PD Dr. Amir Sapkota in the Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility

To date, the Exposome Small Molecule Core Facility has been developing highly sensitive isotope dilution liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (ID-LC-MS/MS) for the detection and quantitation of 17 pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and pesticides. This robust, sensitive, and specific ID-LC-MS/MS method is allowing us to detect target compounds to the femtogram per milliliter range.
            In addition to the high level our 16S rRNA and metagenomics sequencing analyses on the same environmental samples are revealling the overall microbial quality of nontraditional irrigation water sources to determine how that impact agriculture. The Lab Core is also working on the whole genome shotgun sequencing and Bioinformatics analysis of individual samples to characterize the microbial community (bacteria, virus, fungi, protists) and associated antimicrobial resistance and virulence genes among nontraditional irrigation water sources. 
Data Management and Analysis Core
     To ensure effective data management and analyses, and coordinated data sharing between CONSERVE team members, key stakeholders and NIFA, the CONSERVE Data Management and Analysis Core, directed by Dr. Mihai Pop, coordinates data management, sharing among partner institutions, and release to the public. Specifically, the Data Core:

  • Manages data storage and sharing among partner institutions through the establishment of a relational database and dedicated file storage system for all CONSERVE data 
  • Interfaces with the public through the development of a public website that will serve as a main portal for CONSERVE, linking to individual resources developed by the different activities, and tying into the above-mentioned database to provide public access to our data and documents
  • Conducts data analyses with Core personnel providing statistical support to all projects and coordinating integrative data analyses that span multiple projects.

The Data Core activities build upon an extensive computational infrastructure available through the UMD Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) and our extensive expertise in data management, analysis, and visualization. The Data Core has established a state-of-the-art laboratory information management system (LIMS) system in order to match the requirements of the sampling team and is developing data dictionaries and collection spreadsheets allowing data generated in the project to be included into a unified database.
Administrative Core
To ensure complementary levels of oversight and administration for CONSERVE, as well as cross-project integration, the Administrative Core, overseen by Dr. Debra Weinstein, supports all Center activities at all institutions. Specifically, the Administrative Core:

  • Manages budgets of all subcontracts and subaccounts
  • Reports to and ensures open communication with NIFA, collaborators, and stakeholders
  • Coordinates project integration by organizing programmatic meetings and conference calls; the CONSERVE Summer Internship Program (SIP); and evaluation activities CONSERVE Advisory Committee and individual collaborators.

The Administrative Core also maintains the CONSERVE social media outlets, including the website,, Facebook, and Twitter postings as well as producing the quarterly newsletter “converse with CONSERVE”. We continue efforts to develop partnerships that will help with CONSERVE sustainability.

For more information about CONSERVE Cores, go to:

CONSERVE has a new public calendar that highlights events hosted by CONSERVE team members or events at which team members will be presenting/exhibiting.

A few upcoming events:
Friday, March 9, 2018
Seminar: University of Delaware, Applied Economics Seminar DEPARTMENT OF APPLIED ECONOMICS AND STATISTICS
Dr. Iddo Kan
Department of Environmental Economics & Management
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Structural analysis of irrigation-water substitutes to freshwater

10:30am – 11:30am
025 Townsend Hall

For any questions concerning the seminar or the speaker, Contact Leah Palm-Forster, Seminar Coordinator,

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Seminar: University of Maryland, School of Public Health
Dr. Benny Chefetz
Dean of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irrigation with Reclaimed Wastewater: New Source of Water or Emerging problem?

1:30-2:30 pm
Room 2236 in the School of Public Health

JOIN WEBEX MEETING Meeting number (access code): 736 359 925 Host key: 937691 Meeting password: Sp3fbQ44 JOIN BY PHONE +1-415-655-0002 US Toll +1-415-655-0002 US Toll Global call-in numbers:

For any questions concerning the seminar or the speaker, Contact Debra Weinstein, CONSERVE Project Manager,

Saturday, April 28
Maryland Day! 
10 AM-4 PM
Join CONSERVE as part of the University of Maryland, School of Public Health Maryland Day effort. Enjoy fun and educational opportunities for adults and children of all ages.

Sunday, May 6th
2018 Water Research Foundation Conference
Atlanta, Georgia
Workshop 1: Water Recycling for Food Crop Irrigation: Barriers and Opportunities
Session Time: 10:30 am – 1:00 pm

CONSERVE team at Maryland Day 2017

CONSERVE team at Maryland Day 2017