Special Seminar: Improving Water Quality Testing

The Department of Crop & Soil Environmental Sciences presents:

Dr. John Griffith

Advancing Technology for Rapid Indicators and Source Tracking to Improve Water Quality

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
10:00 a.m. Latham Hall, Room 311

Dr. John Griffith is Principal Scientist of the Microbiology Department and Coordinator of Molecular Technology at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), in Costa Mesa, CA.

The microbiology department at SCCWRP is a recognized leader in developing and evaluating new water quality indicators and measurement methods: assessing and refining tools to identify and track sources of fecal pollution in the environment; and validating these methods by incorporating them into large epidemiological studies where their efficacy as indicators of swimming related illness may be evaluated.

For more information about Dr. Griffith:




Are Goliath-like soda companies losing their edge to good ol’ water?

A recent NY Times article indicates a rising trend of bottled water sales as well as a corresponding dip in Coca-Cola and Pepsi sales in the US. This trend is estimated to continue with bottled water toppling soda sales by 2020, if not sooner. (A caveat to this discussion: Overseas consumption of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages is on the rise). With increasing studies linking soda consumption to several health problems including obesity, heart disease and diabetes in addition to the large environmental footprint of soda production (for example, 132 gallons of water are required to make a 2-liter bottle of soda and plastics used in bottle manufacturing), it is critical that consumption of sugar sweetened beverages be reduced (or best, eliminated) for a healthier people.

And maybe this is happening as data from Beverage Digest seems to suggest. Although, the bottled water industry includes, not just plain distilled water (think Dasani and Aquafina), but several variations with some ‘healthy’ additives (Smartwater, SoBe Lifewater, etc.), this is still not the ultimate answer. Water consumption shouldn’t be based just on bottled water sales, but the good ol’ tap in your kitchen which has healthy water flowing out every single day.

Tap water in the United States is regulated by the EPA to meet legal standards of health safety. Bottled water, on the other hand, is not regulated. A detailed discussion on tap v/s bottled water is available in this Reader’s Digest article. But unless your water utility has challenges (like lead in drinking water problems in Chicago) that make you move to bottled water, your tap water is the cheaper, healthier alternative to both Coca Cola and Dasani (which is just ‘processed’ tap water, as the company confessed some time ago).

Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Program

Seminar: Ecosystem service markets: status and lessons from the Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Program

October 28, 2013 in room 317B/C Cheatham Hall

The FREC Fall 2013 Seminar Series. The seminar is from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. The speaker and topic will be:

Dr. Kurt Stephenson, Professor – Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech


Dr. Kurt Stephenson is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics since 1995. Stephenson’s research interests include market-based environmental policies, water resource policy, and the role of economic analysis in public policy. He has served on numerous state and national water quality policy and regulatory advisory boards. Dr. Stephenson received his M.S. degree in Agricultural Economics from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Nebraska.


The importance of communicating science: What the heck does ‘water quality’ mean?

Guest Blogger: William Rhoads, PhD Candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech.

In every field – scientific or not – there is a set of jargon that facilitates communication between experts while at the same time alienates and marginalizes everyone else. We really don’t spend enough time thinking through how to communicate our ideas and results to a public that just doesn’t speak the same language as we do.

I was recently at a workshop about “communicating science” to the public and media where I was asked what message I would relay about my field if I could only pick one. I still don’t have a real, concrete answer to that question, but I said I would want to describe and demystify the language of my field. I chose one term that I would want people to better understand: Water quality.

Water quality is a term that many fields use very differently. Generally, it describes the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water. But if you ask a consumer, drinking water utility manager, wastewater utility manager, industrial systems operator, water resources engineer, and nanotechnology scientist what good quality water is, you might get 10 different answers (and yes, you hypothetically only asked 6 people). If any of them is smart, they would reply, “It depends.” And it really does…

The important part about this concept is thinking about what aspects of water quality would be critical for the public to understand through the lens of a specific field. For my field – drinking water – it’s important for the consumer to know their water won’t make them sick, will taste good, will be consistent in how is tastes and looks, and will be there when they throw the handle of their bath tub or lawn spigot. For 99% of the time, the consumer doesn’t really need to know much about their water.

But right after a storm, or a main break, or local construction that disturbs pipes, when the water is just a little different from what their used to, they need and want to know a whole lot more: why is the water brown? Why does is smell? What can I do? Is it safe to drink? Bathe in? Water my lawn with?

In these scenarios, especially when the public reaches out to the engineer or scientist for information, it is important that the engineer can clearly articulate a problem accurately to a consumer. With no formal training in how to do this, but with ample experience talking with teachers, co-workers, etc. why would we expect the engineer to do anything but communicate in the way he/she knows how? This type of ad hoc response, I believe, feeds into the sometimes negative stereotypes that the public has about us, and that we have about the public.


What are common misconceptions in your field? What can you do to help overcome them?

William Rhoads is a PhD student in Civil & Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech working with Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Amy Pruden.  His research focuses on various aspects of opportunistic pathogens in drinking water and implications of green buildings on public health.  William is currently the president of a joint American Water Works Association and Water Environment Federation graduate student group and is the recipient of the Via Doctoral Fellowship.

Image sources: Frankenstein – imdb.com and Public – democraticunderground.com

Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar

Intersections of Science, Public Health, and Art

Professor Timothy Bromage is a paleoanthropologist and a Professor of biomaterials and biomimetics at NYU College of Dentistry. His research focuses on bone and tooth biology, with an emphasis on its translation to environmental and evolutionary studies. He conducts fieldwork principally in Malawi, examining both modern and early human dental and skeletal development. Recipient of the 2010 Max Planck Prize in Human Evolution, he recently discovered a new biological clock while observing incremental growth lines in tooth enamel of mammals.

Professor Bromage’s visit has been made possible by the support of Department of History, Department of Materials Science Engineering, Department of Philosophy, Department of Science and Technology in Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and Newman Library.

See attached flyer for details. Events are open. Please share with any and all who might be interested.

  • November 6, 7 p.m., public lecture, VBI auditorium: “What cells will do for global climate change”
  • November 7, noon, brown bag, Shanks 370-380: “Avoid infection, and while you’re at it, have a demographic transition”
  • November 7, 4-6 p.m., art forum, Squires 341/345: “What is art?”

Upcoming webcast of National Academies team science meeting

The National Research Council of the National Academies is conducting a consensus study on Team Science that will eventually result in the type of report (book) that we usually see from National Academies Press. But they are still in the planning and information-gathering stages. This coming Thursday, October 24, they are hosting a meeting with nationally-renowned speakers on the organizational and policy issues for supporting team science (which often means interdisciplinary research). I attended the previous meeting on July 1, and learned so much about cutting-edge research informing interdisciplinary teams in one day! The good news is, the Thursday meeting will be webcast, and the prior meeting has been archived. This is a great source for getting up to speed on what the research says about team science, as well as great ideas for guest speakers and panelists for upcoming events.

Interview snippets from ‘Outside’ magazine – Water as an appetizer

Recently, Outside magazine interviewed Dr. Brenda Davy on her work related to water and its role in weight-loss in middle-aged/older adults. In particular, how this potentially translates to changing behavioral patterns of increased water consumption to aid better metabolism and eating fewer calories.

Her lab has studied this and found that the middle-aged/older adult group that drank 2 cups of water 15-20 minutes before meals for 3 months while simultaneously trying to reduce calorie intake lost 16 pounds on average in comparison with the non-water appetizer group that lost just 11. Water appetizers thus seemed to have facilitated the resultant weight loss.

This work offers support to the argument of preferring water over sugar-sweetened beverages and also drinking large quantities of water daily for better health. On the other hand, it also raises important questions about if this ‘water-appetizer’ approach is also applicable to young adults and teenagers. The Outside magazine article by Dr. Michael Joyner explores this in some depth.

The full interview is available here: Why You Need a Water Appetizer

Moose Die-Off Alarms Scientists

Moose populations across North America are experiencing a sharp decline, and the exact cause is a mystery. 

“What exactly has changed remains a mystery. Several factors are clearly at work. But a common thread in most hypotheses is climate change.

Winters have grown substantially shorter across much of the moose’s range. In New Hampshire, a longer fall with less snow has greatly increased the number of winter ticks, a devastating parasite. “You can get 100,000 ticks on a moose,” said Kristine Rines, a biologist with the state’s Fish and Game Department.

In Minnesota, the leading culprits are brain worms and liver flukes. Both spend part of their life cycles in snails, which thrive in moist environments.

Another theory is heat stress. Moose are made for cold weather, and when the temperature rises above 23 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, as has happened more often in recent years, they expend extra energy to stay cool. That can lead to exhaustion and death.

In the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia, a recent study pinned the decline of moose on the widespread killing of forest by an epidemic of pine bark beetles, which seem to thrive in warmer weather. The loss of trees left the moose exposed to human and animal predators.”

Read the full New York Times article here.

New Course: Biological Invasions

Fall Semester 2014

Dr. Jacob Barney, will offer BIOLOGICAL INVASIONS, PPWS 4604 and 5604G, during fall semester 2014. The course will explore the historical, conceptual, mechanistic, societal, and political components of invasive species. The course begins with Darwin and ends with the “Homogocene”, covering the invasion process from introduction to ecological or economic impact and all components in between.

View the syllabus for this course here.