The Environmental Protection Agency awards the academic fellowships to graduate and undergraduate students pursuing degrees in environmental studies.They’re part of the agency’s Science To Achieve Results program, or STAR.

Kirstin Neff is one of two researchers based at the University of Arizona who were awarded STAR fellowships. She’s a doctoral student in hydrology and water resources. Neff says her fellowship will be used to map seasonal groundwater recharge in an area from northern Mexico to southern Utah.

She says she'll be able to make groundwater comparisons in southern basins such as the San Pedro in Arizona and the Río San Miguel in Sonora, and watersheds in Nevada and Utah. The southern basins get much of their moisture from the North American Monsoon in the summer months, while the northern watersheds are affected by winter storms from the Pacific Ocean.

"In the future, climatologists expect current temperature and precipitation norms to shift northward," says Neff. "So what's happening down in Sonora right now, could be what we experience in Tucson in 20 to 30 years. And that can inform our water resources management planning."

Neff’s says her interest in water issues goes back a few years, when the Tucson-area native first started wondering about where the water flowing from the tap came from.

The other STAR fellowship recipient in Arizona is Tai Johnson, a doctoral candidate in Environmental History.

According to the EPA, the STAR fellowship has been awarded to 1,500 masters and doctoral candidates in environmental science study since 1995.