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SFS Annual Meeting


Dr. Nandita Basu

From Tile-to-Tide: Water Quality Challenges and Opportunities from the Local to the Global Scale

Water quality is under severe threat, from intensive agricultural practices and widespread over-application of commercial fertilizers, to climate change and wildfires threatening our drinking water supplies, to emerging contaminants from rapid urbanization and concentrated livestock operations. Multiple new policies have been developed to improve water quality in our lakes and streams; however, water quality remains a persistent problem. In this plenary, Nandita Basu will address the nature of water quality challenges, especially focusing on long term legacies of nutrients, and discuss opportunities for addressing some of these challenges through a combination of top-down analysis -- using large geospatial datasets to identify watershed functional traits -- and mechanistic modeling, from the reach to the watershed scale. Through this discussion, she will highlight novel approaches for regional- and global-scale solutions to water quality challenges.

Nandita Basu is an Associate Professor and University Research Chair of Ecohydrology and Water Sustainability, jointly appointed between the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Waterloo, Canada. She is currently the Director of the Collaborative Water Program at Waterloo and a Member of the Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars. Nandita is a watershed hydrologist and biogeochemist, and her research interests cover a broad range of issues related to water in human-impacted environments in her research. From problems of nutrient pollution in intensively farmed regions to drought in water-stressed areas of India to urban water pollution and water quality effects of wildfire, Nandita uses tools from environmental science, and engineering to improve our ability to sustainably manage water resources.

Dr. Ryan Emanuel

Interdisciplinary Water Research to Advance Scientific Insight and Promote Justice

The ubiquity and necessity of water on Earth call for a variety of research approaches to understanding and stewarding aquatic ecosystems and water more generally. Some of this work originates in disciplines such as hydrology and ecology, or from interdisciplinary endeavors that cross boundaries of academic disciplines. Equally important interdisciplinary work takes place through collaborations between academic researchers and Indigenous peoples. These collaborations can speak to cultural, historical, governance, and justice dimensions of water and water-related places. This talk focuses on the importance of interdisciplinarity to water research – broadly defined – using examples from academic-based research but also from work arising through partnerships with Indigenous peoples. I will briefly highlight examples of academic-centered research that examines biological controls on water inputs to headwater streams. I will then pivot and dwell longer on interdisciplinary research that stems from partnerships with Indigenous peoples. This work focuses mainly on the significance of rivers and wetlands to Indigenous peoples, including Native American Tribes in the coastal plain of present-day North Carolina. Some of this research examines barriers to Indigenous participation in decision-making about water and water-related places, often grappling with implications for environmental justice, self-determination, and the resurgence of Indigenous knowledge systems. I discuss the potential for this type of work to broaden perspectives on the importance of water to life on Earth in ways that advance scientific insight and promote societal action.

Ryan E. Emanuel is a Professor and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University. Emanuel’s research group studies coupled hydrological and ecological processes in the southern Appalachian Mountains and in North Carolina’s Coastal Plain. He also partners with Native American Tribes and Indigenous organizations in North Carolina to develop research projects around pressing environmental issues. Emanuel is a 2020-2021 Fellow at the National Humanities Center, where he is writing a book about environmental justice and Indigenous rights. He is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe and serves on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs’ environmental justice committee. Emanuel holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in Geology from Duke University.

Dr. Michael McClain

A world of challenges and opportunities in the race to protect water for freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater ecosystems are vanishing across the globe as the water defining and sustaining them is abstracted and diverted to other purposes. The situation is most critical in arid and semi-arid regions, but over-abstraction occurs even where water is abundant, along with severe alteration of hydrological regimes that can seriously degrade freshwater ecosystem condition and function. The challenges are many and range from absent or ineffective government policy to knowledge gaps in how ecosystems respond to hydrological alteration. Large numbers of academics, resource managers and conservationists are working in transdisciplinary efforts to address these challenges, and they are having some success. But the pace of success on a global scale lags far behind the pace of continued freshwater ecosystem water loss and hydrological alteration. We must accelerate efforts to protect and deliver environmental water (flows) on a global scale, and there are opportunities to do it. The largest opportunity lies in the rapidly growing interest and efforts of local academics, resource managers and conservationists around the world. This growth is especially pronounced in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which are not only importing approaches from the North but also developing their own. This global groundswell should be encouraged interconnected in a supportive network. The SDGs also offer a special opportunity for global action and coordination by including environmental water as a distinct term in the calculation of water stress (indicator 6.4.2). And new technologies and global data sets are enabling better estimation environmental water needs even in data poor regions. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities. How will we as a freshwater community respond?

Michael McClain is Professor of Ecohydrology at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands. His interests lie broadly in hydrology and the science and practice of ecohydrology to support more sustainable water resources management and ecosystem conservation. He routinely advises governmental authorities in a science and management context and for more than 20 years has led major research and development projects in South America, Africa and Central Asia.