MSU Center for Water Sciences




Splash is the Center for Water Sciences's newsletter- check it out to learn about CWS and our members!

CWS Splash - February 2010

In this issue:

Building Connections: Dr. Dawn Reinhold shares her experience as a CWS Water Fellow

CWS New Faculty Member Spotlight: Dr. Stephen Gasteyer

Resource Impacts of Global Trade: In the Field with Dr. Mark Axelrod and Dr. Brian Roth

Envisioning the Future: The Center for Water Sciences Plan 2010-2015

Improving Sanitation for the Global Community

For a printable pdf of current and past issues, please click here or scroll to the bottom of the page.


Building Connections: Dr. Dawn Reinhold shares her experience as a CWS Water Fellow

By Dawn Reinhold, PhD

Photo of Dr. Dawn ReinholdLast year, I was honored to participate as a Water Fellow for the CWS Stormwater Workshop series. As Fellows, we met approximately monthly to attend seminars and deeply discuss stormwater issues with renowned lecturers, academics, environmental consultants, regulators, and community leaders. We discussed and developed comprehensive recommendations for progressing stormwater solutions in Michigan that included the perspectives from educators, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers. 

My experience as a Water Fellow has benefited my research activities through helping me build networks in the stormwater community that extend beyond MSU. While a Water Fellow, I became involved from a research aspect with stormwater practices for the Farm Lane “Bridge to the Future” (pictured below right). Working with MSU experts in stormwater, including Erin Dreelin, Ruth Kline-Robach, David Lusch, Steve Miller, and Steve Safferman, we helped the project engineer design the bioretention site so it can be developed into a unique research site to further develop bioretention technologies. In a prophetic manner, one of the primary observations of the Water Fellows was a need for training and Farm Lane underpasscertification programs for low impact design in Michigan - a need that was ultimately emphasized by mistakes made during the construction of the Farm Lane bioretention site and that are currently being resolved. Involvement with the bioretention site and the Water Fellows has been invaluable to me, as it has given me practical experience that I can share with my students and helped me develop research ideas and networks for low impact design.

In addition to my experience as a Water Fellow, CWS has aided my research through funding efforts. A CWS Venture Grant helped start my research program on fate of emerging pollutants in vegetated systems.  The Venture Grant, combined with some of my startup funds, supported research on the fate of triclosan and triclocarban from biosolids in soil columns planted with switchgrass, pumpkin, and zucchini. We were able to demonstrate that growth of plants decreased leaching of antimicrobials in the soil column and that plants were able to uptake small quantities of antimicrobials. This research was recently presented at the 2009 International Phytotechnologies Conference and we are currently preparing a manuscript for publication. I also applied for a CWS Post-doc grant last year. While unsuccessful, the reviewer comments from my proposal have been extremely valuable as I further improve the proposal for submission to federal programs this year. 

Dr. Dawn Reinhold is an Assistant Professor in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at Michigan State University. Her research focus is understanding and engineering plant-based ecosystems for protection and treatment of water resources. For more information on the CWS Water Fellows program please visit the CWS Water Fellows website.



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CWS New Faculty Member Spotlight: An Interview with Dr. Stephen Gasteyer

By Rachel McNinch, M.S.

RM: I understand that you are a new professor in the Sociology Department at MSU and a member of CWS. As a sociologist how did you hear about CWS and what role does water research play in your field?

Photo of Dr. Stephen Gasteyer

SG: As a new faculty member, I actually sought out membership in the Center for Water Sciences. Water forms the center of the work I do. As a sociologist I look at social systems and how those impact management around water resources. Many may question the interaction of social sciences and water sciences. I do not work with the actual identification of toxins, hydrology and public health as many water scientists do. Rather, I work with the identification of social processes and interactions in water management decisions. An important part of this is to understand the reactions by society to changes in water conditions and management approaches.

RM: How has your membership in CWS been beneficial to your research?

SG: I currently have a CWS Venture Grant (entitled; A Systems Approach to Water Supply and Sanitation: Case Studies from West Africa and Beyond) to look at sustainable delivery models for safe water in developing countries. In developing countries, the main concern is setting up water systems that will serve over time. In order to determine the system(s) that will be best received and maintained by the community, this requires we not only answer the question; what kind of systems can be implemented? But also; what type of social infrastructure do we need to go along with those systems? I am also looking at national case studies of attempts to build systems in Africa, South Asia, and Central America, including preliminary field research in Mali.

This study builds on previous reports that I authored for the World Bank and IRC Water and Sanitation (that I am currently updating for a chapter in a Gates Foundation funded book on SDMs) on the civic infrastructure supporting small community water systems in the United States. While there are clearly large contextual differences, the U.S. system could contribute interesting lessons and comparisons for the delivery of water and sanitation in developing countries. Unlike most of Europe, and like much of the developing world, the U.S. has a large number (roughly 50,000) small community water systems that are supported through a partnerships between federal and state government, applied research centers, non-governmental technical assistance providers and private sector engineering firms. Unfortunately, our comparison to developing countries is heightened by a crisis in infrastructure depreciation and underinvestment in capital improvements and workforce retention. We see this crisis both in water and sanitation systems How does social infrastructure influence access to water and sanitation on a regular basis?

Unfortunately we are able to use the US as an example to compare with other countries, as the US is in the midst of a crisis with current water infrastructure failing. Two-thirds of the way through the last century, in the late 1970’s, the US backed off of improving water infrastructure with no commitment by federal government to further provide funding. We are now trying to understand social systems that will facilitate those failing systems.

Surprisingly we can compare the complexity of the US system to developing countries. We have 54,000 plus small community water systems in the US, 90% with less than 10,000 connections each. The social adaptation to different entities within the water infrastructure can be studied and taken into account when deciding which water and sewage systems and methods of implementation will be best received in similar communities. Ultimately we want to ensure dependable, potable water is coming out of taps and supply sewage treatment to all.

RM: What are your future goals for this research project? How do you plan to continue this research after your CWS funding expires?

SG: The Venture Grant will allow me to characterize the system components sustainable water and sanitation delivery models – the interaction between public policy, local governance, natural resources, and public health. Developing and delivering sustainable delivery models for potable water and sanitation will require more indepth and cross-disciplinary research. In my initial research in Mali, for instance, I found cases where the social systems were in place at the local level to manage water delivery and the population had largely adopted the behavior of buying drinking and cooking water from sanitary distribution points that delivered safe, underground water. The problem, however, was that the total amount available was about half the amount needed to ensure the WHO 20L per person per day. In other words, delivering safe drinking water to residents would involve more than organization of social systems or education, it would necessitate more complex engineering, systems for water safety from alternative sources to borehole wells, and mechanisms for leveraging greater amounts of capital to support water infrastructure. These kinds of conundrums require complex and interdisciplinary research designs that can create models for grappling with the real barriers of sustainable access to water and sanitation, whether in the United States or internationally. I am currently in discussions with program managers at multiple funding agencies about developing follow up proposals. What is exciting from a research perspective is that the proposals will need to be interdisciplinary and applied.

RM: So which came first, your interest in sociology or water?

SG: I started working on water prior to my graduate degree in sociology. My first job out of college was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, where clean water and sanitation were and continue to be important challenges. When working on sustainable agriculture advocacy in Washington following Peace Corps, we grappled with the often troubled interaction between water quantity, water quality and agricultural productivity. I then moved to Palestine and worked with Palestinian environmental non-governmental organizations on issues including optimization of irrigation, alternative forms of treatment and reuse of wastewater, and water rights. Water in the Middle East is, of course, a critical and highly contentious issue and it is there that I was exposed to the extent that social forces influence water resources management. My masters’ thesis looked at varying perceptions of landscape change the southern West Bank – and water management and availability were critical in the counter narratives of right-wing Israelis and Palestinians about historic misuse of land (on the one hand) and resource deprivation (on the other). My dissertation addressed to social aspects of water quality management in the United States, specifically in the context of source water protection. That led to research positions with nonprofits in Washington, DC, where my work ranged from analyzing the impacts of international water privatization, to analyzing the social systems for enabling sustainable water and sanitation service in low income small communities in the United States.

Dr. Stephen Gasteyer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. His expertise focuses on the structures and processes that influence community level access to critical natural resources and capacity to manage those resources.



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Resource Impacts of Global Trade: In the Field with Dr. Mark Axelrod and Dr. Brian Roth

By Mark Axelrod, PhD (pictured below right) and Brian Roth, PhD (pictured below left)


Drs. Brian Roth and Mark Axelrod in IndiaWith the generous support of a Center for Water Sciences Venture Grant, we began work on a new research project in three Indian cities. The project focuses on community- and ecosystem-level impacts of globalization.  Specifically, we set out to analyze the impacts of a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) decision invalidating US tariffs on Indian shrimp. We hope to grasp whether and how these price signals reach individuals involved in the fishing industry, and whether they lead to changed fishing efforts. 

There is a substantial debate regarding how global trade rules affect resource management. One group of scholars believes that liberalized trade (such as tariff reductions) has detrimental effects on the environment due to increased production, limits on domestic regulation, and constraints on international environmental rules. Others suggest that increased trade, by raising living standards and promoting high levels of regulation, leads to better environmental outcomes. Our research attempts to unpack the relationship between trade liberalization and environmental effects by exploring a series of intermediate steps. These steps include how trade liberalization affects seafood exports, and how changes in exports affect the bottom line for seafood producers. The bottom line for producers and how much this bottom line is transferred to fishers should affect how (and how much) people fish, which has important implications for the sustainability of marine ecosystems and the livelihood of users. 

Fish market in India

During the trip, we met with potential government and academic collaborators in three Indian cities (Chennai, Kochi, and New Delhi) and explored available data sources. Much to our excitement, we discovered that the Government of India has been collecting data on fish catch, fishing effort, and market prices for nearly 50 years. We are still awaiting access to this data, but we anticipate that it will eventually help us provide a baseline for our measurements of tariff impacts. In addition to meeting some great people and discovering leads on available data, we had the opportunity to see the fishery in action at the North Chennai landing site. Armed with this information, we have already built on our Venture Grant experience, submitting a proposal (along with fellow CWS member Dan Kramer) to the US National Science Foundation for future funding.

Both Dr. Mark Axelrod and Dr. Brian Roth are Assistant Professors in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU. Dr. Axelrod’s research interests include democratic institutions and the environment in conjunction with international environmental law and politics. Dr. Roth specializes in aquatic food web ecology, specifically trophic interactions between native and invasive species.



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Envisioning the Future: The Center for Water Sciences Plan for 2010-2015

By Erin Dreelin, PhD and Rachel McNinch, M.S.

The Center for Water Sciences (CWS) envisions a future in which Michigan is the US leader for water science and water technology as well as education and entrepreneurship in the water arena. We are currently working on several efforts, such as a Great Lakes Water Initiative, to position MSU as one of the key educational leaders in the state and Great Lakes region and to advance water research at the national and international level. In our view, the departments and colleges will provide the “hardware” through laboratories, faculty positions, graduate and undergraduate programs. CWS will be a boundary organization that will catalyze larger research programs across colleges and departments to advance water science on campus and in the region.

Since its inception, CWS has focused on water quality and human health, aquatic ecosystems, and the interfaces between them. The research nodes (see figure at right) already have brought individual faculty members together and are aligned with several major initiatives by CWS and its partners. 

In the next five years, we plan to build on our strengths as well as advance the vision of Michigan as a leader in water science. We will use the concept of coupled human and aquatic systems as an overarching and unifying theme for the activities of the Center. Studying these coupled systems requires experts from many disciplines including engineering, economics, ecology, sociology, communication, education, business, and political science.  Our science will also be the foundation for developing the sound environmental policy needed for sustainable futures.



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Improving Sanitation for the Global Community

By Asli Aslan Yilmaz, PhD and Rachel McNinch, M.S.

CWS scientists have created an International Collaboratory for Sewage initiative (IC Sewage), which has been established as a part of the International Water Association’s Health-Related Water Microbiology Specialty Group. The overall mission of IC Sewage is to advance our understanding of the impact of wastewater on water quality and health throughout the world and to set the stage to meet and document improved sanitation, sewerage, and wastewater treatment for the global community.

As a part of this collaboration, the group is developing and demonstrating how new genomics tools such as microbial source tracking methodologies can be used to characterize and quantify human fecal pollution in water in order to advance understanding of the impacts of wastewater and sanitation on human health. IC Sewage is currently in the process of initiating several projects including documentation and assessment of microbial source tracking protocols, identification of pilot studies for mapping indicator bacteria, and identification of a consensus molecular target to be used as a sewage marker.

The IC Sewage initiative has gained great interest worldwide from scientists that are pioneers in the water quality and public health field. The initiative has also gained members from water utilities, government and private laboratories. Currently there are 41 laboratories from 28 countries (Austria, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA, Venezuela and Zambia) who have agreed to collaborate.

IC Sewage membership is open to any individual or group working on water pollution monitoring and looks forward to expanding this initiative globally. Members may join and cooperate at different levels according to their laboratory capabilities and interest.

For more information about the IC Sewage initiative and become a member please visit the IC Sewage website.




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