Faculty Q&A: Joan Rose
posted on August 6, 2012 1:56pm
This edition’s Faculty Q&A is with Joan B. Rose. Dr. Rose serves as the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, the co-Director of the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment (CAMRA) and the director of the Center for Water Sciences (CWS).
Dr. Rose is an international expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health safety publishing more than 250 manuscripts. She has been involved in the investigation of numerous waterborne outbreaks world-wide. She was named as one of the 21 most influential people in Water in the 21st Century by Water Technology Magazine in 2000 and won the Clarke Water Prize.
What type of water research do you do at MSU?
I am a health-related water microbiologist and study how water quality effects on our health. I investigate waterborne diseases and the safety of our drinking and recreational waters, exploring advanced technology for detection of emerging pathogens. Our group is looking at tracking the source of pollution for example on our beaches using new DNA methods. We are also advancing new engineering approaches to treat water including storm water, wastewater, and drinking water.
At MSU, we have 20 different centers or programs that support research on water. Why is this so important to MSU?
When you think about water it boils down to trying to understand and manage three things about water: its quantity; its quality; and its fit for purpose. Quantity is related to climate and the hydrogeomorphology (we are lucky because we live in an area rich in water resources). But it is also how we manage it, use it and how much we have invested in our infrastructure (including pipes and treatment). The physical, chemical and biological quality of water is also a function of the land-use, (agriculture, communities, industries, fisheries, tourism) and how we treat the water (with engineered systems). Climate also effects water quality as rain tends to move the pollution around. Water supports all life on earth. To manage it properly means that we need to have rules and laws and economics in the proper balance. This includes groundwater, surface water, marine waters and even our glaciers. To really understand the complex nature of water in today’s world, you can see we need many scientific disciplines to even answer the simple questions including things like:
How much water do we have? How much do we need? Will water security change in the future with climate change? What is the quality of the water? Is it safe? Can we make it drinkable? Will it support economic growth in the future? Will there be enough for supporting a global food supply? What about maintaining our clean beaches and abundant fisheries? What is the newest technology?
Water is linked to energy, food, climate and our well-being. It is imperative that we build a deeper understanding in all of these aspects.
is so strong in water research with its departments leading the way in the key
disciplines (geology, microbiology, chemistry, engineering, political science,
anthropology, etc.) and the centers and programs focusing on key problems and
interdisciplinary science. Centers that focus on climate change, women and
children’s access to safe water in Africa, new engineering technology and
mapping water quality to address risk. Everyday probably someone at MSU
is doing work that is saving a life somewhere and making a real difference.
We’ve talked in ‘Update’ about the need to feed more people on the earth with less land. Is the same happening to water on our planet (will we need to do more with less)? Why?
Water is considered a renewable resource as it cycles but we have physical scarcity (people living in a desert like Phoenix, Ariz., have to get water from somewhere else) and we have economic scarcity (people living in Africa do not have access to safe water or sanitation, no pipes no treatment).
We have places where water is highly valued and wastewater is recycled through advanced processes and reused to create water security. We have places where water is not valued, used and thrown back into the environment dirty and polluting. We have places where agriculture is creating a global crisis associated with pumping ground water out which is never replenished (around the world we are slowly losing groundwater).
Find almost any food crisis (famine) and you will likely find a water problem. We have poor people all over the world where they lack the dignity of having a toilet which is also associated with devastating diseases. We have places like Haiti which was on the fringe and no one noticed until an earthquake and rains caused one of the largest cholera outbreaks in the 21st century. It’s still not clear if that country can recover any time soon.
We have “Walkerton,” a nice little agricultural community in Canada, where water contamination from animal manure caused hundreds of illnesses and deaths of children simply by drinking their tap water. We have sewage on our beaches and economic losses of several $100,000 for each day a beach is closed. We need billions of dollars to fix our water systems in the U.S.
problems are huge and daunting. Yes we need to do more. We need to mobilize all
our intellectual resources and begin tackling these problems as they are only
growing in numbers, scope and magnitude.
Water is pretty important in Michigan. Does that play into the role that MSU can play in research?
When you work in water research you work in your back yard, that means Michigan and that means that what we do here affects the Great Lakes and international water basins. We can address all aspects of water right here and it will have an impact on Michigan and on global water research.
We have a legacy of focusing on water quality and particularly now we need to be addressing non-point sources of pollution and improving and protecting aquatic health. We are also tackling one of the largest global problems facing the earth (from flood to drought) how to adapt to the swings in a variable climate for the mid-west agricultural states and our industrial cities and reinvest in food and water security for our state and cities. Solving these problems here in Michigan will add to our economic vitality and will help to solve the world’s problems too.
New York City recently won the Singapore Global City Water Prize. I think MSU could partner with others in this state and, with all the ingenuity we have here create a Blue Detroit, I think we should all be thinking what should we be doing in the next ten years, so that Detroit wins the Global City Water Prize. Where water in Detroit means a beautiful accessible, mixed use shoreline, urban parks with water features, urban agriculture with distributed water reuse, efficient vibrant industries borrowing our abundant water, energy recovery from water, demonstration of newest and greatest technologies and the cleanest and safest water anywhere.
To find out more about where your water comes from, check out this video produced by Great Lakes Echo: http://youtu.be/zdsM4Qo66jQ. Every Monday Great Lakes Echo runs video clips of random people answering questions that experts believe environmentally literate citizens should understand. In the last clip an expert explains the correct answers. See more here: http://greatlakesecho.org/category/whadayaknow/
© 2012, Great Lakes Echo, Michigan State University Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.