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Carnegie Mellon Researchers to Announce New Center for Research on Urban Water Quality


PITTSBURGH—A collaborative research team, led by Carnegie Mellon University Civil and Environmental Engineering professors Jeanne VanBriesen and David Dzombak, will announce the creation of a new center—WaterQUEST—to study urban water quality during a daylong workshop on Dec. 8 in the University Center’s Rangos Hall.

WaterQUEST (Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems), which has $1 million in university seed funding, builds on a wide-range of existing water-related research spanning several departments at Carnegie Mellon.

Both VanBriesen and Dzombak say human health and quality of life are at risk if nothing is done. Urban watersheds are a complex mix of natural and man-made water flows that we depend upon to provide clean, safe water to people and industries.

Most existing systems are old and in need of repair in many urban areas. And the natural systems are poorly understood and over-taxed by the input of persistent toxicants and pathogens, according to Carnegie Mellon researchers.

Many urban areas, like Pittsburgh, face water quality challenges related to inadequate infrastructure for storm water and wastewater management. Storms cause infiltration of rain into sewers, overloading older systems and causing an overflow of raw sewage into local streams and rivers.

Nationwide, routine monitoring finds pathogens and fecal indicator bacteria at significant levels in surface waters, making them unsuitable for recreational use.

“Pittsburgh and other regions are in need of advances in urban water management science and technology for cost-effective solutions to this large-scale, costly problem,” said Dzombak, center codirector.

Industry watchers report that there are 250,000 water main breaks each year in the United States, and smaller leaks cause millions of gallons of treated drinking water to leak out of systems before reaching customers’ taps, wasting valuable water resources. In addition, water main breaks result in millions of dollars of damage and lost business annually. In fact, damage claims are still being fielded by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority for disruptions caused by a 36-inch water line break in the city’s central business district in August 2005.

In an era in which abundant, clean, cheap drinking water and safe recreational water have been taken for granted, Carnegie Mellon’s new WaterQUEST Center will provide a research forum designed to keep drinking water safe, and to protect and restore the quality of our natural waters, researchers said.

“Every day, we interact with our urban water, and the health and quality of this water is central to our health and quality of life,” said VanBriesen, center co-director. “WaterQUEST research targets a variety of persistent problems in urban water systems, and we are working on tools for modeling, monitoring and cleaning up our urban waters,” VanBriesen said.

WaterQUEST will focus on problems that are national in scope but local in impact. “The Pittsburgh region, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation face difficult challenges to improve and protect surface water and groundwater quality in urban areas,” said Dzombak. “WaterQUEST Center faculty and students at Carnegie Mellon, and our collaborators from Pittsburgh and around the country will work to bring new ideas and approaches to meet these challenges.”

The center announcement is coupled with a workshop designed to bring together leading researchers in urban water quality from across the United States to discuss ongoing and needed research for improved management of urban water quality. In addition to Carnegie Mellon researchers, the workshop is attracting professionals from a variety of regional research partners, including the Allegheny County Health Department, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, Duquesne University, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Pittsburgh.


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