Cows grazing near a streamWater. Life. They are one and the same; without water, there is no life. A century ago, a dryland farmer on the Great Plains would have understood that analogy perfectly, it’s truth would be evident and undeniable. Today, that connection is harder to see, development and modern technologies have clouded our ability to observe as carefully. However, the analogy is still just as true now as then; we, along with every other organism on earth, need clean, fresh water every day to sustain our existence and quality of life. What’s more, clean water is scarce and becoming scarcer. Population growth and development often result in the contamination and pollution of our water supplies, which limits water supply and decreases water quality. Therefore, to maintain our current quality of life and to preserve ecosystem integrity, we need to insure that we have adequate, high quality water supplies.

The Challenges

Despite the successes, there remain many areas where our treatment technologies fail to protect water quality. Our grandparents would be familiar with many treatment technologies used today although the world has changed significantly.  “Doing things the way they have always been done” is probably a poor strategy for us as a society. Slow moving stream Therefore, using modern techniques and tools, we need to develop “softer” control strategies such as engineered treatment wetlands, riparian buffer strips, or aquifer recharge and recovery systems that protect water quality, treat urban stormwater and recycle wastewater, and provide high quality habitat.

We also still don’t really know how to deal with bioactive contaminants and related sublethal effects in humans and aquatic organisms. As engineers, we usually  understand how to control gross pollution problems that cause mortality or cancer, but recent discoveries indicate that sublethal effects may be equally important: What happens when we alter growth, survival, and reproduction in aquatic organisms (or even humans) without killing them outright or giving them cancer? Do we need to worry about this possibility? Scientists know that certain contaminant exposures cause drastic changes to growth, survival, fitness, and fecundity. Over time, these changes can even reduce the populations of aquatic organisms.. we kill nothing outright, but our actions contribute to long slow slides toward extinction. How can we detect, predict or control these insidious water quality problems? In my research group, I hope to find these answers.

Research Opportunities

Here at the University of Washington (both the Tacoma and Seattle campuses) and the Center for Urban Waters (Tacoma, WA), I am always looking for well-qualified students and researchers interested in water quality. While my primary research interests lie at the intersection of water, chemicals, and fish, Snowboarders hiking on snowy ridgeI am broadly interested in many projects focused upon environmental engineering and chemistry, which is reflected in the composition of my research group. Whether you are an undergraduate student, graduate student, or post-doctoral researcher, there exist many research projects in various stages of development, and I’d be happy to help you develop your own topic as well. So if you are interested in career development, skills acquisition, or graduate education at UW, please send me a statement of interest, a CV, and an unofficial transcript, and we’ll see if we can build a project together.