Environmental Science, Policy & Engineering Program

2020 Winter Seminar Series

Water Resources in a Changing World

This year's ESPE winter series is focused on water resources challenges in a changing environment. We have lined up three exciting speakers who work on these issues from both a science and policy perspective. With the ongoing droughts in Australia and Southern Africa, the US experiencing its second wettest year on record in 2019, and recent rollbacks of clean water regulations in the US, these talks are particularly timely.

All talks, free and open to the public, begin at 7:00 pm in the Nott Memorial.

Wednesday, February 12 (Nott Memorial)

Meeting the Challenges of the World's Growing Dependence on Groundwater

Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for almost half the world's people, is essential to irrigated agriculture, and provides enormous environmental benefits. A growing population and changing climate make groundwater more important than ever to meet future needs. This presentation uses examples from around the world to uncover the main issues surrounding groundwater depletion and contamination. Included are lessons learned about better groundwater governance and how groups and individuals are making a difference protecting the world’s groundwater for present and future generations.

Dr. William M. Alley is a sought after speaker in communicating water science and policy to a wide range of audiences. He is Director of Science and Technology for the National Ground Water Association. Previously, he served as Chief, Office of Groundwater for the U.S. Geological Survey for almost two decades. Dr. Alley has published over 100 scientific publications and received a number of awards, including the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award and Shoemaker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Communication. He was elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2009. He is the author of a number of books including High and Dry and The War on the EPA.

Wednesday February 26 (Nott Memorial)

Ready for Change? Water in the 21st Century

The continued susceptibility of society to the harmful effects of hydrologic variability, pervasive concerns related to climate change and the emergent awareness of devastating effects of current practice on aquatic ecosystems all illustrate our limited understanding of how water ought to be managed in a dynamic world. To address these challenges, new problem solving approaches are needed that acknowledge uncertainties, incorporate biased but potentially useful climate projections, and link engineering design principles with our best geoscience-based understanding of planetary change. In this presentation, we present examples and lessons learned developing water adaptation strategies for the Great Lakes, Mexico City, California and beyond.

Dr. Casey Brown is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His primary research interest is the development of analytical methods for improving the use of scientific observations and data in decision making, with a focus on climate and water resources, and he has worked extensively on projects around the world in this regard. His work is funded by NSF, Rockefeller Foundation, NOAA, DoD, and WRF among others and he consults for the World Bank, private sector, state agencies and municipalities. He has a number of awards to his credit, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering and the National Science Foundation CAREER award. He graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and was also commissioned as an Air Force officer and earned a PhD at Harvard University.

Wednesday March 4 (Nott Memorial)

Fossil Energy in a Modern World: Managing Impacts on Water and Climate from Domestic Energy Extraction

Over the past ten years, horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing (HDHF) has transformed the US energy landscape and disrupted global energy markets. This expansion occurred in rural, residential areas in the Northeastern United States (e.g., Pennsylvania and Appalachia) and amidst great uncertainty regarding the impact on local and national water resources. In this talk, I will present an argument for why we can expect fossil energy extraction to remain part of the US energy grid, what impacts on water resources are demonstrated and absent, and how improvements can be made to protect ecological and public health and reduce the contribution of natural gas extraction to global warming.

Dr. Plata proudly earned her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Union College (2003) and her doctoral degree in Chemical Oceanography and Environmental Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Joint Program in Oceanography (2009). Plata is an NSF CAREER Awardee (2016), an Odebrecht-Braskem Sustainable Innovation Awardee (2015), a National Academy of Engineers Frontiers of Engineering Fellow (2012), a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow (2011, 2013), and a Caltech Resnick Sustainability Fellow (2017). Plata is Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT.