Kirshen, P.H., R.M. Vogel and
Interdisciplinary Water Research at Tufts
Research is organized around four areas where Tufts has well established research programs:
Water, Climate and Environment Change; Water and Public Health; Urban Watershed Restoration and Management; and Water, Food and Livelihood Security. A fifth emerging area is also included: Water and National and International Security. All of the research areas integrate several disciplines to approach problems centered on water Water, Climate, and Environmental Change. Water supply, instream environmental flows, waste assimilation, and other uses are affected by long-term climate and environmental change and by the adaptation policies to respond to the impacts. Recent Tufts research has investigated the impacts of climate change on flow regimes in the United States and elsewhere (Vogel), and developed indicators of the impact of climate change (Kirshen, Vogel, Reed, Jost). We have also studied the adaptation of metropolitan water supply and wastewater treatment systems to climate change (Kirshen). Research expansion will include studies of how water-related impacts are distributed by socio-economic classes, of the role of groundwater management in responding to climate change, and of the impacts of flow changes upon food production and human and animal health.
Water and Public Health. Water use directly affects human health through drinking water or sufficient water for sanitation. Transmission of the emerging pathogen Cryptosporium parvum to humans via drinking water is a developing problem in Massachusetts (Griffiths, Naumova). This parasite caused the largest waterborne disease epidemic in US history in 1993. Currently, cutting edge physical and molecular methods are used to detect scarce parasites in water, and novel biological methods to assess infection in the human population. Innovative time-series statistics are used in the linkage analysis. This study has spawned three international studies in Kenya and Ecuador on Cryptosporium in water supplies shared by humans and wildlife (Griffiths, Else, Naumova). Research in all sites could be expanded to include studies of how the spread of Cryptosporium is affected by climate, land use and environmental change, the effects of individual behaviors and public policies on transmission, and how nutrition and livelihood security are altered by the spread of Cryptosporium.
Urban Watershed Restoration and Management. Urban watersheds can be restored via land management, controlling existing chemical and biological pollution, restoring natural flow regimes, and involving stakeholders in the process so they can contribute, support, and benefit from restoration efforts. Tufts has established a partnership with a citizen watershed association to restore the Mystic River Basin where the main Tufts campus is located, (Kirshen, Durant). This partnership has resulted in several research efforts to support watershed restoration activities. US EPA is sponsoring a project to develop a computerized decision support system for the purpose of managing nutrient loads in this highly urbanized watershed (Chapra, Vogel, Kirshen, Durant), which could be used in other watersheds. A new project funded by a grant obtained with the community will address how environmental justice is integral to the development of sustainable communities. Ongoing research also includes urban ecology (Reed), and the chemistry of river sediments (Durant, Kenny, Robbat). Expected research expansions include direct inclusion of more policy decision variables into the computer-based decision support system, direct integration of environmental justice into watershed restoration, and trade-offs among sediment management strategies in urban rivers.
Water, Food and Livelihood Security. Water availability, access, and use affect agricultural production, other income-generating activities, and household livelihood security. Risks to these elements of water security can be reduced. A Tufts team with expertise in anthropology, hydrology, engineering, pastoralism, and agronomy is working in Burkina Faso to study how seasonal precipitation forecasting can benefit subsistence agriculture (Kirshen, Jost). Other Tufts work in Bangladesh highlights how poverty alleviation depends on withstanding water-related shocks (floods, drought and unpredictable/changing rainfall patterns), more than simply making more water available for drinking or sanitation (Webb). Work in Ethiopia, Indonesia and India focuses on how households cope with uncertainty in environments of chronic drought (Webb). With further research, we will integrate climate change modeling, watershed integrity, and food supply and demand issues into expanded studies at these and other sites.
Water and National and International Security. In 2002, Tufts formed the Global Institute on Security at Tufts (GIST). Its purpose is to coordinate education, research and outreach centered on anticipatory and adaptive responses to security threats posed by willful acts of harm to infrastructure vital to society (Gute). The threat posed to the supply and distribution systems of potable water is prominent among these. GIST draws upon the expertise of all of the Tufts Schools. The work of GIST will not be limited to devising adaptive responses; it will also evaluate the root causes of such threats. Research issues will include identifying the importance of fresh water stocks as a strategic element in realpolitik as well as evaluating the possible importance of water as a central factor in regional conflicts, particularly as the focus of terrorist acts. Potable water is also being probed as a key determinant of human health, especially in populations of increased susceptibility such as migrant populations, or peoples affected by war or natural disasters. Tufts technologists will explore new techniques for the rapid identification and control of both chemical and infectious water-borne agents. The WSSS Program will further all of these research efforts.