Improving water quality

UCI awarded $500,000 grant for project aimed at mitigating pollutants

A team of researchers from UC Irvine and two universities in China are at work creating a handbook of best practices for mitigating water pollutants that pose serious risks to human health and environmental quality.

“Designing effective water pollution programs to protect public health and the environment requires sound regulation, engagement of affected stakeholders, and assured compliance across levels of government,” says David Feldman, professor of urban planning and public policy, director of Water UCI and leader of the project.

“Our project will examine how these factors are currently pursued in China and in the U.S. by focusing on those pollutants emanating from the process of wastewater treatment itself,” he adds. “We will identify the factors that together constitute an effective strategy to motivate companies and individuals to pursue pollution reduction goals, and the degree to which these factors can be codified and shared with other societies facing similar challenges."

Feldman’s team includes: UCI faculty members Nicola Ulibarri and Valerie Olson and anthropology Ph.D. student Nan Ding, Lingyi Zhou of Fudan University and Yixin Dai and Chao Chen of Tsinghua University, China. Their project is being funded by a grant of more than $500,000 from the Cyrus Tang Foundation.

Rapid economic growth in the manufacturing, agricultural and energy sectors has imposed serious impacts on water quality from various contaminants, the researchers note. “Well-known and lesser-known long-term adverse health and environmental consequences that result include diseases from parasites, viruses and mutagenic as well as carcinogenic compounds. More than 40% of the world’s population lives in regions where uncontaminated water is scarce, a figure likely to rise in the future. And every day, nearly 1,000 children die from preventable water-borne and sanitation-related diseases. In addition, the pollutants themselves, having both latent and chronic effects, are often poorly regulated under existing governance frameworks.”



Water pollution in the United States became critical in the 19th century with the development of mechanized agriculture, mining and industry. That, Feldman says, is now proving especially intractable in rapidly advancing economies including China, where adverse water quality impacts are being magnified by rapid economic development and urbanization since the 1980s. 

In short, “the health and well-being of future generations face considerable risk unless methods can be found to adopt successful pollution mitigation efforts,” he says. “These efforts must include adopting fruitful innovations, as well as training regulators and others to draw on such efforts. Lastly, it must also include providing outreach to affected publics who need to become more knowledgeable about the threats they face so as to become better empowered to avert and manage them. An effort to codify best practices for adaptive water quality management in both the U.S. and China can guide pollution mitigation efforts in the future.” 

The researchers point out that their handbook of best practices will feature practices that emerge when rules, regulations, and laws are developed through broad stakeholder participation and cooperation between governments and formal non-governmental entities. 
Mimi Ko Cruz