Love delivers Kappe Lecture on urban water infrastructure


The Beacon/Steffen Horwath

Love addresses the audiences questions about the dangers out of date water infrastructure.

Sean Schmoyer, Asst. News Editor

On Oct. 30, Dr. Nancy G. Love presented her lecture titled “Rethinking America’s Urban Water Infrastructure: Resource Efficiency, Access and Public Health” as part of the Kappe Lecture Series.

The Kappe Lecture Series goal is to “share knowledge of today’s practitioners with tomorrow’s environmental engineers and scientists.”

Love is the Borchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.

The lecture began with Love talking about her work in Ann Arbor, Michigan with drinking water and wastewater systems. She discussed the role that water treatment plants play in communities and the problems that can occur around them.

Love discussed issues in Ann Arbor such as the chemical 1,4-dioxane that can negatively affect drinking water from nearby wells and PFAS, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Haedyn Hale, junior communication studies major, expressed concern that the lecture was not generalized or geared toward non-engineering or science majors in attendance.

“For a university held lecture that was open to the public, I did not appreciate her addressing everyone in the room as an engineer even after she acknowledged the lecture was open to any and all in the public.”

Love moved on to the cycle of American urban water infrastructure stressing the importance of it.

William Sheeler, junior environmental engineering major commented on the content of her lecture.

“Water infrastructure is what makes a majority of everyday life, as we know it, a possibility. If it was not for these complex systems, the manner of using the shower, toilet, sink, etc. would be vastly different,” said Sheeler.

“The problems which face our infrastructure today are important due to the major setbacks which would be created if one of these systems were to fail,” Sheeler continued. “Sewage could flood the streets and/or immediately enter nearby waterways without being treated which could vastly damage and alter the surrounding ecosystem.”

Love addressed that the current system for water infrastructure functions off of a centralized multiple-barrier water system that has been effective at saving costs, granting access to all consumers and protecting environmental health.

Love praised the multiple-barrier system.

“This is the gold-standard of how we have the quality of water we have. We pull the water from the environment and we put it through multiple treatment steps because anyone barrier is not adequate. In multiple barriers, you achieve higher quality water. Just filtering water may remove 50 percent of a virus but with multiple barriers, you get 90 percent removal of a virus,” said Love.

Love later made an argument for a hybrid approach to multiple-barriers as opposed to the centralized approach.

“Centralized systems are very capable but they are not very flexible. If you have a hurricane it can take out a treatment planet for two weeks,” said Love. “In those cases, some of the distributive systems would come online sooner [in a hybrid system].”

“So having a flexible network that takes advantage of both and uses them in a way where they communicate with one another is possible,” she added.

Love also discussed resource efficiency, stressing that people often talk about resource recovery but not efficiency. The example Love focused in on was phosphorus being used as a fertilizer and how much nitrogen and phosphorus returns to the environment in a reactive form.

The problem, Love stated, is that without available phosphorus we can not have food, and that phosphorus is not an infinite resource.

Love later spoke on a yellow water (urine) diversion to fertilizer program that would capture the phosphorus in yellow water and use that phosphorus to fertilize crops.

Love argued that in studies across the United States more people were comfortable with organic, urine-derived fertilizer and bio-solids, compared to synthetic foods which are the type of food we primarily eat.

“The idea of capturing yellow water to concentrate and treat in order to form cheaper urea as a marketable fertilizer was very interesting. I feel that the process is simple enough and marketable enough that it could be a means to start the snowball rolling at forming a new system of treatment. I wish the lecture would have focused more on the possible solutions to the issues we face going forward and if/how these solutions would alter daily life, the workforce, etc,” Sheeler said.

Love closed by stating that she and her colleagues are making the transition to public writing with open access papers with community-based executive abstract that would make the research on these important topics more understandable by a general community.