URI Students and Experts Discuss Clean Drinking Water at Symposium

Keynote speaker Maggie Theroux, US-EPA
Keynote speaker Maggie Theroux, US-EPA

By Neil Nachbar

A couple of years ago, the quality of drinking water was a hot topic when cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water that contained lead and other toxins in Flint, Michigan.

In Rhode Island, water quality is monitored and reported on regularly by several agencies.

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) publishes an annual report on the quality of drinking water throughout the state. The report covers public drinking water, private drinking water, water quality monitoring, water quality sampling, compliance, violations, and much more.

In 2016, a 206-page report, “Water Quality 2035: Rhode Island Water Quality Management Plan,” identified 24 water pollution sources in the state, ranging from large sources, such as wastewater treatment facilities, to smaller impacts from pet waste. The plan was produced by the Rhode Island Division of Planning and Department of Administration. Many municipalities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations throughout Rhode Island contributed to the report.

Three experts from national, state and local water agencies gave their perspectives on clean drinking water at the ninth annual Rhode Island Clean Drinking Water Symposium, held at URI’s Coastal Institute on March 22. The event was hosted by the Rhode Island Water Resources Center (RIWRC).

Leon Thiem, RIWRC director and associate professor in URI’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, kicked off the event by introducing Dean Raymond Wright of the College of Engineering.

The dean welcomed the audience and shared his fond memories of water quality monitoring and modeling of surface water systems as a Ph.D. student and young professor.

Stephen Soito, Leon Thiem, Amy Parameter
From left: Stephen Soito, senior manager of Providence Water Supply; Leon Thiem, director of RI Water Resources Center; Amy Parmenter, hrydrogeologist from RI Department of Health

The keynote speaker was Maggie Theroux, Innovation Technology Specialist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Theroux’s presentation provided an overview of funding for water technology from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Theroux gave examples of the type of technologies that receive funding and which government agencies provide the most funding for research projects.

The other two speakers were Stephen Soito, the senior manager of the Providence Water Supply Board, and Amy Parmenter, a hydrogeologist from the RIDOH. They each described the challenges of monitoring the quality of drinking water at their respective departments.

Thiem was pleased that students and faculty who have worked on water-related research projects had the chance to hear from and interact with professionals from three governmental agencies.

“This symposium was a great opportunity for students, faculty and staff to discuss Rhode Island water issues with the representatives from Providence Water, Rhode Island Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Thiem said.

A poster session, which highlighted research projects conducted by URI students, took place toward the end of the event. The posters were judged by Vinka Craver, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Joseph Goodwill, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Soni Pradhanang, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences.

M. Alfi Hasan
M. Alfi Hasan

The winners are listed below.

First Place
M. Alfi Hasan, “Implication of machine learning to bias-correct the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) product for forecasting rotavirus of South Asia”

Second Place
Fatemeh Faghihzadeh, “Kinetic, metabolic and macromolecular response of bacteria to chronic nanoparticle exposure in continuous culture”

Third Place
Jeeban Panthi, “Changing climate altering the hydrological regime – A case from Karnali basin in Nepal Himalaya”

Honorary Mentions
Michaela Chasman, “1,4-Dioxane treatment with peroxone activated persulfate: Large scale column experiments”
Mahrukh A. Shaikh, “Unique, Highly Alkaline Ground Waters of McLaughlin Natural Reserve”

Hasan, who is completing his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering, explained the motivation behind his research project.

“In the age of space science and nanotechnology, I was fascinated to learn that millions of people still die each year due to some ‘preventable’ infectious diseases,” said Hasan, who is from Bangladesh. “The effects of climate on these disease outbreaks require much attention.”

“Alfi’s poster had a very unique presentation that stood out from the others, as well as having highly technical content,” said Craver.

Faghihzadeh, a Ph.D. student from Iran, was thankful to be acknowledged for her project.

“I was glad that my work was recognized by the judges,” stated Faghihzadeh. “Attending the symposium also provided the opportunity to discuss my upcoming research paper with the senior researchers in attendance.”

The third place winner, Jeeban Panthi, is from Nepal. His research was conducted in his native country from 2014-2017, prior to enrolling at URI.

“Climate change is becoming one of the major environmental problems and water resources are greatly affected by climate change,” Panthi said. “Due to the change in the climatic system, there could be too much water when it is not needed and too little water when it is needed. This may lead to flooding during monsoon season and a drought in other seasons.”

The Rhode Island Water Resources Center is one of 54 Water Resources Research Institutes in the United States. They are located at land-grant universities in each state, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories. Created by Congress through the Water Resources Research Act of 1984, and administrated by the U.S. Geological Survey, each Center links the academic community with federal, state, and local governments and with the private sector.