Peter Richards

Peter Richards
Senior Research Scientist
B.A., Oberlin College
M.S., Ph.D., University of Chicago
Unit (Dept., Office, Center, etc.): 
Contact Information
Phone Number: 
Office Location: 
Bareis 314

Faculty Information

Curriculum Vitae: 

Pete joined the staff of the National Center for Water Quality Research in 1978 as a Chemical Limnologist, to work on a two-year EPA-sponsored Nearshore Study of Lake Erie, to analyze and interpret chemical data produced on each of four cruises each year, and put these results in the context of historical data. He then worked for several years as part of the multi-university team charged with integrating the NCWQR data with those of six other agencies participating in the Lake Erie study.

Thereafter he turned his attention to the interpretation of chemical data being produced by the NCWQR from sampling stations on Lake Erie tributaries and other major rivers in the state of Ohio. He developed expertise in computer programming, application of statistics to environmental data, temporal trend analysis, and pollutant load estimation. He combined these skills to develop a self-optimizing computer program for calculating pollutant loads which has been widely used throughout the U.S. and abroad.

With Dave Baker, he conceived and developed the Richards-Baker Flashiness Index, a measure of the rapidity of change of flows in rivers and streams which has also gained wide usage.

His trend studies led to the realization that dissolved phosphorus loads were increasing in the tributaries to Lake Erie, and were a probable cause of renewed eutrophication that was being simultaneously recognized in the lake. This discovery led to the formation of the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, a unique consortium of academia, state government, and industry representatives that has recently made a series of recommendations to the State of Ohio about actions that should be taken to reduce losses of dissolved phosphorus to the lake. This work on dissolved phosphorus has provided Pete with the opportunity to participate in the EcoFore project, a major NOAA-funded modeling research project centered at the University of Michigan. The goal of the project is to develop linked models of land use/water quality, lake hydrodynamics, and lake ecosystem function, and using these models to explore the relative importance of tributary loading, the zebra mussel invasion, and possible climate change in determining the extent of hypoxia in the Central Basin of Lake Erie. As this work reaches its end, he is looking forward to an NSF-funded five-year follow-up project with another team centered at the University of Michigan, to model impacts of climate change on land use and demographics and the potential impact of all three of these on water quality and ecosystem health in Lake Erie and its watersheds.

In addition to these projects, he has had recent funding from U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, for a number of projects related to land use and water quality in rivers and streams.

Pete is a frequent presenter at national water quality meetings, and has been the first author of 26 papers in the peer-reviewed literature since 1990, and a co-author of 13 more.

When he is not working on water quality issues, Pete enjoys gardening, fishing, and studying minerals and crystallography.

Research Interests

  • Impacts of land use on water quality
  • Water quality, drinking water, and human health
  • Design of water quality monitoring programs
  • Application of statistics to environmental data
  • Sampling strategies and computation algorithms for unbiased, efficient determination of pollutant loads in running waters
  • Techniques for assessing temporal trends in water quality

Current Projects

EcoFore 2006. A NOAA-sponsored project to develop linked models of Lake Erie tributaries, lake hydrodynamics, and lake ecosysems. Goals: understand relative importance of tributary loading and internal recycling in the zebra-mussel era in driving renewed eutrophication of Lake Erie.

USDA-CSREES CEAP. The Rock Creek Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) includes an assessment of water quality trends over the past 30 years in Rock Creek and other Lake Erie tributaries, the construction of an AnnAGNPS model of Rock Creek, and the use of the model to assess effectiveness of various combinations of agricultural Best Management Practices.

Lake Erie CREP water quality assessment. The Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) has the goal of protecting 10% of northwest Ohio’s riparian acres with buffers and other erosion control measures by 2010. The NCWQR is responsible for assessing success of the program in reducing sediment loads in the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers.

Ohio Tributary Loading Program. NCWQR’s ongoing program to document the status and trends in water quality in Ohio’s major rivers, and use the results to inform wise environmental management of these resources.

Selected Publications

Dolan, D.M. and R.P. Richards. 2008. Analysis of Late 90s Phosphorus Loading Pulse to Lake Erie. Pages 79-96 in Checking the Pulse of Lake Erie, ed. M. Munawar and R. Heath. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society Envirovision Series.

Loftus, T.T. and R.P. Richards. 2008. Water Use for Irrigation Agriculture in Ohio's Lake Erie Basin and its Potential Impact on Lake Erie Water Quality. Pages 159-179 in Checking the Pulse of Lake Erie, ed. M. Munawar and R. Heath. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society Envirovision Series.

Richards, R.P., V. Bouchard, and R. McCall. 2008. Water Quality in Drainage Ditches Influenced by Agricultural Subsurface Drainage. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet WS-3857-08. Available at

Richards, R. Peter, David B. Baker, John P. Crumrine, Jack W. Kramer, D. Ellen Ewing, and Barbara J. Merryfield. 2008. Thirty-Year Trends in Susppended Sediment in Seven Lake Erie Tributaries. Journal of Environmental Quality 37: 1894 - 1908.

Richards, R. Peter, David B. Baker, and John Crumrine. 2006. Detecting water quality responses to land management changes: Why is it so difficult? In Proceedings: Innovations in Reducing Nonpoint Source Pollution: Methods, Policies, Programs, and Measurement, November 28-30, 2006, pp. 81-91. Rivers Institute at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.

Giddings, J.M., T.A. Anderson, L.W. Hall, Jr., A.J. Hosmer, R.J. Kendall, R.P. Richards, K.R. Solomon, and W.M. Williams. 2005. Atrazine in North American surface waters: A probabilistic aquatic ecological risk assessment. Pensacola (FL): Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). 432 pp.

Baker, D.B., R.P. Richards, T.T. Loftus, and J.K. Kramer. 2004. A New Flashiness Index: Characteristics and Applications to Midwestern Rivers and Streams. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40(2): 503-522.

Gustafson, D.I., K.H. Carr, T.R. Green, C. Gustin, R.L. Jones, and R.P. Richards. 2004. Fractal-Based Scaling and Scale-Invariant Dispersion of Peak Concentrations of Crop Protection Chemicals in Rivers. Environmental Science and Technology 38:2995-3003.

Richards, R.P. 2004. Improving TMDLs with lessons learned from long-term detailed monitoring. Journal of Environmental Engineering 130: 657-663.

Richards, R.P. and G.L. Grabow. 2003. Detecting reductions in sediment loads associated with Ohio’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 39(5): 1261-1268.

Richards, R.P., F.G. Calhoun, and G. Matisoff. 2002. The Lake Erie Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality project: An introduction. J. Environmental Quality 31: 6-16.

Richards, R.P. and D.B. Baker. 2002. Trends in water quality in LEASEQ rivers and streams, 1975-1995. J. Environmental Quality 31: 90-96.