UD hosts first of three symposia on grand challenges in water sustainability

The University of Delaware's Alma Vázquez-Lule (left) and keynote speaker Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University
UD Plant and Soil Sciences graduate student Alma Vázquez-Lule (left) and keynote speaker Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University

The University of Delaware hosted the first of three symposia in the graduate-student inspired “Human and Climate Series.” The goal is to bring together students, faculty and professionals to share research and knowledge centered on water sustainability, as well as expose scholars to potential career paths within water sciences. The first installment – Dynamic Hydrology from Land to Sea – brought UD and national experts to Pencader Hall. Speakers ranged from veteran water sustainability researchers to first-year graduate students.

aculty members and private sector professionals speak to graduate students.
William Ball, director of the Chesapeake Research Consortium, speaks at a symposium career panel.

 

“We had a broad range of working professionals — both the invited speakers spanning government agencies, private companies and academia, as well as participants,” noted Holly Michael, the Unidel Fraser Russell Career Development Chair for the Environment and an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences. “In particular, the career panel helped give students perspectives on various career avenues as well as strategies for getting there.”

In his keynote presentation “Ecosystem design approaches in a highly engineered landscape of the Mississippi River Delta,” Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, provided a historical perspective on the human connection to water, the impact on the critical areas and a look into the future if human behavior does not change.

“Sea level rise amplifies decisions we make on how we use our land. We have to think about the consequences of what we do with land and water resources,” explained the Louisiana State University professor. “If you make not-so-smart decisions, they become really not-so-smart. If you make though, right decisions, they become really smart decisions.”

Twilley feels an area that will come to define these decisions is cost. He advised to keep an eye out for insurance rates in coastal zones. How we use land directly impacts water quality, an important topic in a state where agriculture is the Number one industry.

“Delaware is a state that is susceptible to sea level rise and has some tough decisions,” said Twilley. “Coming from a farming family myself, I know there is a lot of conservation mindedness in the people managing that land. There needs to be an awareness of downstream effects.”

The day also featured sessions on coastal processes, environmental networks and monitoring, social dynamics and water management, and watershed processes and management.

Graduate student Samuel Villarreal speaks at the podium.
Water Science and Policy Ph.D. student Samuel Villarreal

The creation of the conference was completely organic. UD graduate students across several disciplines, including Margaret Capooci, saw the need for an interdisciplinary discussion on water sustainability.

“The symposium provided us an opportunity to learn about how various sectors approach issues related to water sustainability,” said the Water Science and Policy doctoral student. “It underscored the importance of working across sectors and disciplines to address them.”

Students on the symposia organizing committee are a mix of Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) Environmental Fellows, members of the Water Science and Policy Program as well as students from three colleges — the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE), the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and the College of Engineering (COE).

“I heard great feedback from students who enjoyed the range of water science, engineering and policy topics covered,” added Michael. “Faculty and professionals commented on the professionalism of the student organizers and the excellent job they did in putting the event together.”

The second and third part of the Human and Climate Series takes place in March and June respectively. The March 22nd symposia focuses on water for food and energy; the June 7 symposia covers science, management and policy.

The student and faculty steering committees will now incorporate ideas and feedback that followed Friday’s symposium — laying out the agenda for the two 2019 events. They are keen on inviting speakers with a different set of perspectives and whose research addresses novel topics in water sustainability.

Samuel Villarreal, UD graduate student
Water Science and Policy Ph.D. student Samuel Villarreal

About the Human and Climate Series

This symposia series is funded through the UD Office of Graduate and Professional Education, Grand Challenges program and organized by the DENIN Water Working Group and graduate students studying water across campus.

About the organizers

Graduate student members of the Water Sustainability Challenges Symposia Student Committee include Margaret Capooci, Julia Guimond, Alma Vázquez-Lule, Jillian Young Lauren Mosesso, Chunlei Wang and Shanru Tian.

The faculty steering committee includes Jeanette Miller, Holly Michael, Shreeram Inamdar, Todd Keyser, Scott Ensign, Yo Chin and Dave Arscott.