UB students in the “Geography 470/570 /Law 777”
course have spent the semester developing plans to manage the
Cattaraugus watershed and surrounding ecology.
They will present those plans from 8-11 a.m. Nov. 17 in the
Cellino and Barnes Conference Center, 509 O’Brian Hall, North
Campus, as part of Geography Awareness Week.
The course is taught by Chris S. Renschler, associate professor
of geography, with the assistance of Barry Boyer, professor
emeritus of law.
“Geography 470/570 Law 777” has one major
assignment: A mini internship, or consultant-like project, in which
students review existing plans in order to produce a more
integrated plan for managing the water in rural watersheds more
The aim is to identify strategies to manage a range of water
issues, from short-term flooding to long-term land use and
conservation planning. These strategies address the needs and
resources of different agencies and communities.
“This class has developed over the past years through
input from students and stakeholders, and is an excellent way for
enabling students to experience both research and outreach
activities,” Renschler says. “This semester is the
first time that we have nearly 30 students; in the past, we usually
had less than 20.”
The class is made up of undergraduate, master’s and PhD
students. Students interview watershed stakeholders to gain an
understanding of their needs. Class discussions foster a
conversation between students, who work together to develop
possible solutions. These solutions become an integrated watershed
management plan that meets the needs of all stakeholders.
A watershed is made up of water, soil, air and plant and animal
communities, each of which can be affected by agriculture,
forestry, fishery and other human activity. Students in the class
analyze these factors as they work toward a coordinated management
In one student project, Zack Robitaille, a geography
master’s student, is addressing potential water contamination
from radioactive waste stored at the West Valley facility.
Robitaille also is looking at eroded material blocked at the Gilboa
Dam and how to address the negative effects that result. Other
students are focusing on biodiversity, soil erosion, flood
protection and emergency response.
At the end of the semester, Renschler and Boyer will combine the
students’ watershed management proposals into a report for
“This class basically goes in all the different directions
that a research university wants to go. We’re doing research,
learning and conducting outreach, all together,” Renschler
Some students in the class have benefited from the assistance
and research expertise of Graham Hayes, a postdoctoral scientist
working with Renschler.
Hayes is nearing the end of a two-year project looking at how to
reduce sediment traveling down Cattaraugus Creek into Lake Erie.
The project brings together stakeholders that include farming
communities within the Seneca Nation of Indians that produce
agricultural run-off, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, which
is responsible for dredging the harbor where the creek empties into
By collecting data on soil erosion, Hayes and his colleagues
have created computer models that help identify areas of the
watershed that produce sediment at a higher rate. The researchers
also are using modeling to test the efficiency of strategies for
Students in Geography 470/570 Law 777 who are focusing on
watershed modeling techniques in their management proposals have
worked with Hayes to learn about effective modeling techniques.
In the spring semester, some of these students will run such
models in a geographic information system (GIS) environment as part
of the “Geo 475/575 Landscape Modeling with GIS” course
to be taught by Renschler.