Friday, February 15, 2013

Call for Abstracts

The WaTER Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Center at the University of Oklahoma will host the Third OU International WaTER Conference and International Water Prize Award Ceremony on Sept. 23-25, 2013 in Norman, Oklahoma, USA. Abstracts, for oral presentations and posters on any topic related to water and sanitation issues in emerging regions, are due on March 15 (international developing countries) and April 1 (U.S. domestic and all other).

International guests make new friends at the 2011 WaTER Conference.
 Topical areas include, but are not limited to, the following:

•       Fluoride / arsenic mitigation systems
•       Appropriate drilling technologies
•       Novel WASH technologies
•       Drinking water treatment innovations
•       Ground water exploration/production systems
•       Treatment wetlands for water quality mitigation
•       Conservation and reuse technologies
•       Social entrepreneurship/microfinance
•       Cultural and behavioral change
•       Climate change effects on water resources
•       Educational initiatives in WaSH
•       Student service organizations
•       Role of NGOs and charitable organizations in WaSH

Guests at the Conference are treated to traditional Native American dance.

A limited number of international (developing country) travel scholarships are available!

Conference and workshop registration information is now posted and can be found here.

Ecological Engineering in Bolivia

Surrounded by mining, the mountainous region of Potosi, Bolivia, is plagued by extensive environmental contamination from past and current mining operations. One mountain alone annually discharges an estimated 161 tons of zinc, 157 tons of iron, and more than two tons of arsenic in addition to dozens of other toxic minerals, including cadmium and lead, through its water. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma have discovered a technique to remove pollutants from water that requires minimal labor costs and is powered by nature itself. After 15 years of testing, research has shown this passive water treatment method to be successful in as diverse geography as the flatlands of Oklahoma and the mountains of Bolivia. 

OU researchers measure water quality in mine drainage flows in Bolivia.

Improved water quality is clearly visible at the Tar Creek site in Oklahoma.

The passive water treatment system is created by engineering an ecosystem consisting of a series of filtering ponds. As the water moves through each specifically designed pond, a natural chemical or biological process removes certain contaminants as it slowly moves from one cell into the other before being re-released into natural waterways. “When the water reaches the last pond, it has gone from looking like orange, sediment-laden sludge to clear water,” said Robert Nairn, Associate Director for OU’s Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center and director of the Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds.

Bolivian highland villagers depend upon surface water for drinking and cooking.

The ecological filtering system requires less fossil fuel input and produces less pollution than traditional energy intensive water filtration technologies. “Since it is powered by the sun, wind and gravity, it requires minimal labor cost and only needs to be checked about once every three months,” said Nairn.
The passive water treatment system captures contaminated water from the mines, which flows through the series of constructed ponds for treatment. “The region gets less than 17 inches of rain per year,” Nairn said. “Much of the limited water is used for irrigation of staple root crops by the local farmers, resulting in contaminated soils and crops, posing substantial health risks.”

Dr. Bob Nairn, OU WaTER Center Associate Director, teaches courses in ecological engineering and wetlands science.

Building upon their experience in the Tar Creek, Okla., Superfund site, the researchers are engineering an ecosystem to treat polluted water in Potosi. The difference between the Tar Creek project and Potosi project is the extreme geographical conditions. Instead of Oklahoma flatlands, the team is working in a desert at 16,000 feet, which poses new challenges. “Massive water pollution is an issue that affects us all,” Nairn said. “If left untreated, the results are the same: unsafe living conditions and potential health risks. We learn from research in both developed and undeveloped countries to counteract this man-made threat with ecologically friendly solutions.”

Researchers present at GeoGen Conference

Four researchers with the WaTER Center - Dr. David Sabatini, Dr. Jim Chamberlain, Laura Brunson, and Anne Kroeger - presented at the GeoGen 2013 Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 5-7. This conference, the first of its kind, focused on naturally-occurring water contaminants of geologic origin, primarily arsenic and fluoride. Participants from 15 countries were present to share research and dialogue about such topics as water treatment methods, health impacts and assessments, and alternative water source options that avoid ingestion of harmful contaminants.

Anne and Laura (first and second from right) share drinks and laughs with friends at the Conference banquet.
Conference participants were treated to an evening of Ethiopian dance and music.
Laura (PhD candidate, Environmental Engineering) presented on "Optimizing fluoride removal materials for drinking water in Ethiopia" while Jim (WaTER staff engineer) presented on "Alternative water sources in Cambodia: reaching the bottom billion". Anne (PhD candidate, Anthropology) presented a much-admired poster on her research, "The health effects of fluorosis in the Ethiopian Rift Valley", and Dr. Sabatini (WaTER Center Director) was an invited keynote presenter. His address was a case study of geogenic contaminant mitigation in the U.S., comparing three different-sized communities and their public water supply decisions.
Dr. Sabatini presents at the gathering of 85 participants.

Injera, made of teff flour, is a yeast-risen flatbread and the national staple of Ethiopia.
The GeoGen Conference was organized and co-hosted by EAWAG (Switzerland) and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Sponsors for the conference included World Vision, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Chemical Society of Ethiopia.

Building capacity in Africa

Zachary Flamig knew he wanted to be a meteorologist from the time that he was 8 years old. It was then that his hometown of Dallas got pounded by a massive hailstorm, one that showed the fury and the power of the "Nature of the Sky".  He got his B.S. and Masters degree here at OU, and decided to stay on and pursue a PhD, working under Drs. Yang Hong (of the WaTER Center) and J.J. Gourley. His research is to develop and fine-tune a high-resolution hydrologic model that can be used to predict flash-flood events both in the U.S. and abroad. The model can be calibrated and tested using historical flood data from previous decades.
Zac Flamig is a 2nd year PhD student in Meteorology.

Zac Flamig teaching classes this spring in Namibia and Rwanda.

Although his doctoral research is centered on U.S. applications, Zac has been called upon by NASA to help build human capacity for flood predictions in Africa. Agricultural populations in south-central Africa are extremely vulnerable to flooding events, because of both damage to food crops and inability to relocate to safer ground. Accurate flood prediction can save lives in both the near-term and longer term. Zac has taught hydrologic model courses in Kenya and Rwanda, and has assisted local personnel in validating models using GPS and ground measurements obtained by helicopter, boat, and on foot. In addition, he is helping Namibian scientists create their own base map to be utilized in flash-flood predictions.

Pictures of the Okavango River in north Namibia.

While at OU, Zac has been active in the amateur radio club (served as president for 3 years), is seeking to get his aviation license, and is an avid storm-chaser in a region of the country where storms can be hugely entertaining! His first big view of a tornado was in the Texas panhandle in 2007. Zac is careful to point out that skipping class to chase a storm is specifically against school policy. One wonders why such a policy would ever have to be stipulated in the first place...?....