Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Faculty Position


THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA Water Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Center invites applications to fill a tenure-track faculty position in Sanitation Technologies and Approaches for Emerging Regions.  This new position reflects the strong commitment of the University of Oklahoma to expand the pioneering work of the OU WaTER Center ( in response to the UN Millennium Development Goals (specifically Target 7.c). The WaTER Center is targeting applications at the Associate Professor level but will consider other ranks for highly qualified applicants. 

An earned Ph.D. in engineering, science or a closely related field is required.  The successful candidate should have a record of funding and publishing peer reviewed journal articles on sustainable sanitation technologies and approaches in developing countries including rural and/or urban applications.  The successful candidate will teach courses and mentor undergraduate and graduate students working on sanitation for developing countries.  Preference will be given to candidates with extended field experience in developing countries and the ability to quickly develop and maintain research programs focused on developing countries.   Preference will also be given to candidates with experience integrating technology, business, behavioral and/or health issues as well as those whose work overlaps with issues common to emerging regions in the US.

Applicants should send a curriculum vitae, a statement of research and teaching interests, and the contact information of three references to: Sanitation Technology/Approaches Search Chair; School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science; The University of Oklahoma; 202 W. Boyd St., Room 334; Norman, OK 73019-1024.  Initial screening of applications will begin by August 1, 2012; applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Women, minorities and disabled persons are strongly encouraged to apply.  The University of Oklahoma is an EEO/AA employer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Student Travel: Cope to Cambodia

WaTER Center Master’s student and NSF Fellow Chris Cope is studying the adsorptive capacity of iron-amended rice husk char for removing arsenic from groundwater. Arsenic is a naturally occurring contaminant in much of the groundwater used for drinking water worldwide. Although mitigation techniques exist, they often are not cost-effective for people in developing countries. Cope, under the guidance of Dr. David Sabatini, traveled to Cambodia to test the effectiveness of the medium at filtering arsenic in June of 2011 and will return this June. 

As Cope explains, for most Cambodians rainwater is the preferred source of drinking water. However, few people can afford vessels that will hold enough rainwater to sustain them through the dry season. Because of this, Cambodians rely on multiple sources of drinking water throughout the year, including wells. While many wells have been drilled, making water more easily accessible, little attention has been paid to water quality. As the reliance on groundwater for drinking has increased, so have cases of arsenic poisoning, or arsenicosis.

Arsenicosis is a disease that results from consuming too much arsenic over an extended period of time. Arsenicosis can lead to a number of skin problems, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases. According to the World Health Organization, individuals who consume arsenic contaminated drinking water for more than five years are especially susceptible. Furthermore, WHO reports that malnutrition can increase the vascular damage done by arsenic. This is especially significant for developing countries where poor water quality often coincides with limited food supply.

Providing drinking water in developing countries, therefore, must include provisions for mitigating natural contaminants like arsenic. The WaTER Center has been working to achieve a cost-effective solution, and Cope's research is an extension of the Center's efforts. WaTER Center researchers initially tried to coat sand. Although there was some success with the iron-coated sand, its surface area was not large enough to cause a significant decrease in the contaminant. Iron-amended rice husk char is one of several materials being considered by WaTER Center students.

Testing the adsorption capacity of the husks is the next step in Cope's analysis and the reason for his travel this upcoming summer. Cope says it is especially important for him to test his material in Cambodia because of the specific makeup of the groundwater. In the filtration process, the arsenic ions should adhere to the coated husks. However, Cope says that there are competing ions such as phosphate and sulfate in source water that will also be attracted to the husks, limiting the capacity of the husks to remove arsenic.The degree to which this occurs will greatly affect the viability of iron-amended rice husk char as a solution.

Cope says eventually he hopes that this technique of charring and coating inexpensive materials will lead to a commercially available arsenic adsorption technique. Once an ideal substance is identified, the next phase will be to put the substance in filters and to do pilot studies in other regions, such as Bangladesh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

K12 Outreach: Roosevelt Elementary Water Rally

On February 22, 2012, the WaTER Center participated in a Help for Haiti Water Rally at Roosevelt Elementary School in Norman, Okla. Help for Haiti was a fundraiser organized by a Roosevelt parent whose son is adopted from Haiti. Students at Roosevelt raised over $11,000, which will purchase 250 ceramic pot water filters. To celebrate their accomplishments, Roosevelt Elementary hosted a rally, and the WaTER Center was invited to give a presentation on the need for clean water in Haiti. 

Graduate student Hayley Ryckman, who spent two months working in Haiti during a cholera outbreak in 2010, spoke to Roosevelt students and their parents about the vast difference between water consumption in the U.S. (about 100 gallons per day per person) and Haiti (about 5 gallons per day per person).

Regarding her experience, Ryckman said, "I was so glad to see the energy, excitement, and motivation of the students at Roosevelt Elementary for wanting to reach out to the kids their age in Haiti by providing them with the means to have clean water, which will be able to prevent further sickness and death in these communities.  I think the kids at Roosevelt really do realize how fortunate they are and have taught themselves, and reminded me (and most likely their families and teachers), that anything is possible when we put our hearts into it."

Participation in Help for Haiti is just one of the ways the WaTER Center is expanding its outreach initiatives in the local community by focusing on school children. Education is critical to long term improvements in the world water crisis, and young children, who seem to be especially adaptable and sensitive to the needs of others, are important to reach. Furthermore, K-12 outreach is needed in order to promote the theme of WASH to the next generation of scholars and citizens.

In addition to the Help for Haiti night, we hosted the first K-12 Clean Water Poster Contest at the 2011 OU International WaTER Conference. We had 146 participants from 14 schools in the Norman area. Students were asked to create an original piece of artwork that positively illustrated some aspect of water and sanitation. Students especially focused on conservation and sharing water. Watch the video below to view the students' excellent work.


Building on the success of these two events, the WaTER Center has determined to continue focusing outreach efforts toward school aged children and their families.

Sabatini Spends World Water Day at the United Nations

Dr. David A. Sabatini spent March 22, World Water Day, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.  As part of a conference hosted by Italian and U.S. collaborators, Dr. Sabatini presented a seminar on sustainable water solutions in developing countries. The Infopoverty World Conference links development and technological innovation, while addressing each of the Millennium Development Goals in this context. Dr. Sabatini highlighted the WaTER Center's research areas which simultaneously address appropriate technology, entrepreneurship potential, cultural specificity, and behavioral change.

Earlier in the month, Dr. Sabatini flew to Chicago to accept a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Illinois. He was honored for his contributions in the field of hazardous waste remediation using surfactants as well as the development of appropriate and sustainable technologies for water addressing water quality issues in remote villages. Drawing on experiences from both research areas, David serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology and on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Water, Sanitaiton and Hygiene for Development.

In his acceptance speech, he reminded the audience of another great Illinois citizen, Abraham Lincoln, who was an "engineer at heart" - taught himself surveying, was the only president with a patent, utilized technology in winning the war effort, and established the land grant universities and the National Academy of Sciences.

While in Chicago, David and his wife, Frances, toured the historic Water Tower, an attractive architectural structure that housed an important hydraulic pressure standpipe. The Tower was one of the few North Side survivors of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

We are proud of our WaTER Center Director - his vision, his leadership, and his accomplishments!

Partners and Friends - Catholic Relief Services

Dr. Dennis Warner, Senior Technical Advisor for Catholic Relief Services, spent a busy 36 hours in Norman last December, visiting with OU students, faculty and WaTER Center staff. Dr. Warner has over 40 years of experience in international development, working on water supply, sanitation, environmental health, and emergency relief. He studied history and engineering at the University of Illinois, and earned a PhD in civil engineering at Stanford University. Dr. Warner has held professional positions with the Peace Corps, University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Duke University, the World Health Organization, World Bank USAID and several engineering consulting firms.

Dr. Warner met individually with WaTER Center personnel, sharing advice from his vast experience on the mission of the Center to address holistically the challenges of water and sanitation in our partner countries. He reminded us that cooperation on the ground level was not a foregone conclusion, that men are often mobile in these communities while looking for work (women are less so), and that local preferences and/or taboos may mean the difference for success, even given a very effective technology.  Universities can produce excellent research, but the guidance given at the NGO level must be geared towards project managers, not technical experts, and allow for local adaptability. So, for example, a manual on water treatment for excessive fluoride levels in Ethiopia must outline the 3 or 4 technologies (maximum) that would be effective given any potential set of water quality parameters. In other words, the guidance must answer the questions: “What will work for this water under these conditions?” and “What are the risks associated with this technology – given either success or failure?” Also, the question needs to be asked: “Has this been tried before? And if so, why did it fail?” Knowledge of local history is critical for the success of technology adoption.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), one of the WaTER Center's partners in Ethiopia, is a humanitarian organization with projects in more than 100 countries. Its mission is to promote human development by responding to major emergencies, fighting disease and poverty, and nurturing peaceful and just societies. Regarding sanitation, health has been shown to be much worse in open defecation areas, regardless of the level of water protection.  CRS has been promoting the “arbor loo”, a small pit latrine that can be used as the site of a fruit tree planting, once its lifetime has reached up to a certain fill depth. Once the old pit hole is abandoned and planted, the new tree can use nutrients in the buried, aged compost to produce life-giving fruits.


Upcoming Events

WaTER Center personnel are gearing up this spring for upcoming summer travel to various points abroad. Research, in accordance with the WaTER Center's mission, includes greater cultural understanding, assessment of business potential, and scientific research on various in-country approaches to providing clean drinking water to rural areas.

A list of some upcoming activities follows. 

  • The WaTER Center will host a lecture by and meetings with Stanford's Dr. Jenna Davis on April 27, 2012.  Dr. Davis' research group (known as the Poop Group) focuses on the intersection of health, economic, development and environmental protection, with particular emphasis on cost-effective and sustainable water supply and sanitation (W&S) service delivery in developing countries.
  • Chris Cope, Hayley Ryckman, Jim Chamberlain, and David Sabatini will travel to Cambodia in June 2012. Research includes further development of char material for use in arsenic mitigation and life-cycle comparison of alternative surface-based drinking water sources. 
  • Laura Brunson, Anne Kroeger, Jim Chamberlain, and David Sabatini will be traveling with several OU faculty members to Ethiopia in July 2012. Research, under the direction of Dr. Paul Spicer in Anthropology, includes health-based quantification of fluoride contamination and continued studies on appropriate technologies for fluoride removal. An OU Business professor, Dr. Lowell Busenitz, will be studying the state of entrepreneurship in Ethiopia and the available infrastructure for supporting local business initiatives.
  • The 3rd University of Oklahoma International Water Prize winner will be selected and announced at the OU International Water Prize Symposium in the Fall semester of 2012. Jurors are currently being nominated and will be announced soon. 

Sooners Without Borders Receive Hands-On Training

Undergraduate students involved with OU's Sooners Without Borders (SWB) were actively involved in well-drilling training, aquifer testing, and water quality analysis as part of their 
preparation for work in developing countries.

Vicki and Megan became expert well drillers using the hand auger tool.

Two SWB students - Megan Baxter and Vicki Ea - received 2-day training on hand-drilled well and pump installation in developing countries. Water4 Foundation ( provides excellent training for individuals and groups seeking to bring clean water to needy villages. Jim Chamberlain, WaTER Staff Engineer, was also trained in the methods and tools. 

As Caleb Holsey explains, "In the beginning stages of a project, Water4's primary focus is not drilling wells.  We hope this happens, but we are most interested in setting up nationals to have a well drilling business that they might continue after we leave.  We like to partner with groups in places where they have an established presence with long term goals and have identified villagers who need a job and could be trained to do this as their occupation from now on."  Water4's mission is to establish in-country well drilling businesses, with the desired bi-product being completed wells. 

Caleb Holsey of Water4 demonstrates the organization's new pump design.

In a separate project, Sam Bush and Catherine Lynn traveled to the Black Mesa region of Oklahoma to locate and identify wells, test aquifer recharge, measure well and water depth, and analyze water quality constituents in the field. Their work over a long weekend was to help prepare them for possible international work in Uganda, Haiti, or Guatemala. 

Cate Lynn used an electronic dipper to measure well depth and depth to water.

Sam Bush and Jim Chamberlain measured well and aquifer properties.

Cate, John, and Sam - leaning against their four-wheeled "donkey" that sped them up and down
the grand mesa-lined valleys.