Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, October 3, 2011

Scientists, community leaders join forces at URC water symposium

Approximately 130 scientists, researchers, and community leaders working in academia, industry and government from throughout Michigan joined forces to address the large and looming water issues facing the state and the world at the "MI H2Objective: Research Shaping Michigan’s Water Future."

The symposium hosted by the three University Research Corridor (URC) partners — U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — took place Sept. 29-30 at McGregor Center, Wayne State University. The conference participants addressed three critical impact areas including:

• Water and energy

• Water and health

• Water and the rural and urban landscape

The panel discussion topics were designed, in the words of conference organizer Erin Dreelin, associate director of the Center for Water Sciences at MSU, to "highlight challenges and opportunities, and position Michigan as the 'go to' place for water science." 

The water symposium was chaired by Nancy Love, U-M professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean for academic programs and initiatives at the Rackham School of Graduate Studies; Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Endowed Chair of Water Research and co-director of the Center for Water Sciences at MSU; and Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering at WSU.

"A research agenda is imperative to reinvigorating cities across the country so they are vibrant, resilient communities capable of addressing challenges from global change, disasters and disruption of functioning healthy water systems and coastlines," Miller said.

Rose added, "Detroit is one such opportunity where in partnership with government and industry, universities can lead a research and development program that will enhance innovation in science and technology toward the creation of resilient and sustainable community-based water systems."

All three of the URC universities engage in major research on water issues, much of it interdisciplinary in nature. Jeff Mason, executive director of the URC, said one of the URC's desired outcomes was that the symposium would result in collaborating more on national and international water initiatives, with each institution bringing their particular niche to bear. 

"Collaboration is key among all the universities," Mason said. ""That is something very unique to Michigan. The three universities support a knowledge-based economy and have expertise that the other universities cannot lay claim to. … We believe the URC institutions are leaders in freshwater research."

While the conference highlighted research done in Michigan, speakers and panelists reflected the national and international influence of the Great Lakes. Speakers included:

• Katherine Baer, senior director, Clean Water Program, American River.

• Corrie Clark, environmental policy analyst, Argonne National Laboratory.

• Alan Vicory, Water Technology Innovation Cluster Steering Committee chair and executive director of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

• Kelly Munkittrick, scientific director, Canadian Water Network.

• Peter Gallant, vice president for business development and regulatory affairs, ENDETEC – Global Sensor Platform, Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies "Advanced Technologies for Water Security."

• John Hartig, manager, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

• Samuel B. Passmore, program director, environment program, C.S. Mott Foundation.

"This symposium was a great starting point for us to begin tackling the water issues important for the future of our state and the world," Miller said. " Now we need to figure out how to take the collective expertise and existing funding and integrate it, link it, facilitate it and partner to make it actionable and sustainable."

“Baer’s, Gallant’s and Clarke’s comments in their keynotes provided important messages: 'Restoration of our rivers is a viable economic development strategy; ‘Water security means understanding quantity, quality and society’s needs;’ and ‘Energy production is vulnerable to water availability throughout the U.S.,’” Love said.

“All speakers emphasized the importance of partnering. … We believe that the URC institutions partnering with industry, government and the public are what will be required as we move forward to address the concerns relative to water quality and availability so critical to our long-term health and survival.”

Rose added, “This is an opportunity for Michigan universities to connect our science, research and students to the needs of society.”