Dolan Fund for Innovative Water Research

Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of our time, according to the United Nations. For the Dolan family of Philadelphia, water runs deep and personal.

Almost 90 years ago, Philadelphia-area naturalist/adventurist, Brooke Dolan II, led expeditions to western China and Tibet and collected the Asian mammals on exhibit in the dioramas of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He and his colleagues also brought back thousands of other specimens to study at a time when the world looked to natural history museums for information on countless little-known species.

Fieldwork in action. The Academy’s watershed field crew heads downstream after collecting algae samples from the Upper Paulins Kill River in the New Jersey Highlands. Photo by Tess Hooper

Today Dolan’s grand-nephew and namesake is at the forefront of another challenge and is taking action to fill a critical gap. The Academy has announced that Dolan family members have pledged $3 million to establish the Dolan Fund for Innovative Water Research.

“Water is sure to be one of the biggest issues we’re faced with and one that affects every person we know,” said Brooke Dolan of Chester Springs, Pa. “Our thought is to start funding watershed ecology research so public and private organizations will be better prepared when it comes to the planning that will be needed.

“This is an important time for private funding of watershed research,” Dolan said. “Governments, for example, tend to be reactive not proactive, and the research that the Academy can be doing will provide governments and infrastructure planners with the tools to act more wisely.

“We chose the Academy since it already has a legacy of researching water issues and its affiliation with Drexel University and others makes it a strong platform that will last indefinitely,” Dolan said. “We believe the Academy has the better approach.”

The generous donation also is made possible by Dolan’s cousin Sarah Dolan Price of Philadelphia and siblings Margaret Chew Dolan of Philadelphia and Thomas Dolan V of Oakland, Calif. Several years ago Price and family endowed the Brooke Dolan Archivist position in the Academy’s Library and Archives. Dolans also have given generously over the years.

Academy field team leader Amanda Chan uses sonar equipment to map the stream bed, measure winter season stream flow, and calculate rate of discharge on Ten Mile River in New York.

The Dolan Fund will encourage innovative research on watershed ecology and provide leading support for a new post-doctoral fellow position in watershed ecology that will be called the Dolan Fellow for Innovative Water Research. In advance of funding a $2.5 million endowment in 2027, the Dolan family will donate $50,000 each year to be matched by the Academy.

Watershed 101

 A watershed is an area of land that drains the rainfall and small streams to a common outlet, such as a larger stream or river, that eventually ends up at the mouth of a bay. Regionally, there is the Delaware River Watershed, which is a source of drinking water for 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York.

“To understand a watershed’s structural and functional characteristics and how they influence how people, animals, and plants coexist, scientists must examine a watershed in its complete context,” explained David Velinsky, PhD, vice president for Academy Science. This ecological research is critical, and the Academy of Natural Sciences has been a leader in this field for the last seven decades.

The Academy’s leading role in the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a partnership of 50 environmental organizations funded by the William Penn Foundation, shows it already has a commitment to watershed research. A watershed’s natural processes—rainfall runoff, groundwater recharge, sediment transport, plant succession, and others—provide beneficial services when functioning properly. But as we know, they can cause problems when disrupted.

Drexel University co-op student Cameron Chung takes an algae sample from a rock on White Clay Creek in Chester County, Pa., as curious chickens survey the scene.

“It is crucial for people to understand watersheds and how they work before decisions are made or actions are taken that may affect important watershed characteristics,” said Velinsky, who also is head of Drexel’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science.

Coming full circle

Brooke Dolan’s father, Thomas Dolan IV of Lafayette Hill, Pa., understands all of this. In the 1950s he worked as an aquatic entomologist for Academy ecologist Dr. Ruth Patrick. Patrick is well known for developing the fundamental principle that biodiversity holds the key to understanding environmental problems that may affect aquatic ecosystems.

Thomas Dolan and wife Ibitz. The Dolan Fund in their name and other family members will address important watershed issues.

Now, as the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research marks its 70th anniversary this year, the family patriarch has come full circle and, along with his son, has rallied other family members to establish and endow the Dolan Fund to address important watershed issues.

The Academy employs specialists in multiple areas of aquatic science including chemistry, phycology, macroinvertebrates, fish and environmental data management. What is needed—and made possible by the Dolan Fund—is a comprehensive watershed ecology effort to investigate the system as a whole and to study potential effects of an increasing population, climate change, and water withdrawals. Very few institutions consider these multiple effects. The application of an innovative method will place the Academy at the head of the field, Velinsky said.

“When the family gathered together to talk about what we wanted to do for the Academy, we decided that water will be the enduring issue facing our country and the world,” said Thomas Dolan.

With the Dolan Fund “we are continuing a legacy with the Academy, one that should last for generations,” Brooke Dolan said.

To read an article on the Dolan Fund in The Philadelphia Inquirer, click here.

Post by Carolyn Belardo