Interview with Graduate Student – Savannah Wunderlich

Research interview with Savannah Wunderlich:

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background:Savannah Wunderlich is a Masters student in the Environmental and Water Resources engineering program and a graduate member of the Kumpel Research Group and Hydrosystems Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, currently pursuing a degree in the field of water resources management.

Q:     Could you tell me a little bit about your project?

A:     Basically, there is a set of researchers within the Hydrosystems Research Group who are studying and building a simulation model of the water supply system in Mexico City. The purpose of this is to provide the decision makers in the city with a tool that they can use to evaluate different improvement measures that they can take when updating their water supply. The model currently operates under the assumption that everyone in Mexico City receives their water from the tap. However, in reality, a lot of people receive their tap water intermittently, and so rely other sources such as water trucks and bottled water at the household level. Therefore, what I’m contributing to this project is a household level model that considers these other water supply sources. The overlap with Dr. Kumpel’s research group is the household level analysis and the incorporation of intermittent supply.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        The ultimate goal is to build a large model that can be handed off to decision makers in Mexico City that they can use compare potential improvement options that can be made to the water supply system.

Q:        As of now, what are your materials and methods for conducting your study?

A:       Right now, all of my work is computer-based MATLAB analysis of existing water availability and pricing data to determine where households are actually getting their water from. When a household runs out of city-supplied water due to intermittent supply, it is important to determine what the next best option is in terms of source water. We are assuming that a household will make an optimal decision to maximize their water supply while minimizing their costs to determine which sources they will use.

Q:        Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Yes. I have not been exposed to programming since my early undergraduate career. Therefore, this level of programming has been a learning curve but an enjoyable process nonetheless.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve these complications?

A:        As I work through the problems, I am finding that trial-and-error has been the main method for overcoming programming issues. Additionally, there are other lab group members who are more experienced in programming who have been able to lend me their knowledge as well.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        My research is similar to Dr. Kumpel’s research because I’m analyzing intermittent supply and alternative sources of water. The Kumpel Research Group has expertise in intermittent supply and household surveys which has been really helpful in my work.

Q:        Why did you get involved in research?

A:        Research is something that I didn’t have much of a chance to get involved in during my undergraduate career. I think it’s such a rich component of the academic experience, and I knew that I wanted to do a research-based graduate degree so that I could expand my horizons.

Q:       Why do you like your project in particular?

A:        I really like that it’s a cross between two very different research groups. Programming, which is a large part of the Hydrosystems Research Group, is a very useful skill to learn. Meanwhile, the Kumpel Research Group provides exposure into the more nuanced field of household decision making.

Interview with Graduate Student – Nelson da Luz

Research Interview with Nelson da Luz:

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background: Nelson da Luz is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental and Water Resources engineering program and a graduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst currently pursuing a degree in the field of drinking water quality and supply.

Q:        Could you tell me a little bit about your project?

A:       My main project that I’m focused on is drinking water quality sampling programs (drawing a sample of water from a portion of a system to analyze it for different parameters). So, what I’m thinking about is what makes a sampling program “representative.” In other words, is the program intended to represent the entire distribution system or part of the system? Another broad question that I’m exploring that is dependent on the concept of “representation” is whether the sampling program is protective of human health or if it meets some other objective.  In relation to these questions, I’m investigating if a sampling program is representing a specific thing, when and where is the best time and place to sample for different water quality parameters.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        The reason behind this research is that the guidance that is provided to utilities is often very broad. Regulation agencies simply tell utilities to make their sampling programs “representative,” but do not provide much guidance as to what this entails. At the end of the day, hopefully this research will provide agencies and utilities with a better idea of what “representative” means. Adapting this term to specific goals is also important rather than using it as a blanket term.

Q:        As of now, what are your materials and methods for conducting your study?

A:       I’m working with an EPANET water quality model that simulates a network of pipes and the junctions at which water is withdrawn from the network for sampling purposes. The first step is to run a hydraulic model of the distribution system to validate the hydraulics of the system and eliminate errors. For instance, ensuring that sufficient quantities of water are flowing throughout the entire system and that there is enough pressure at all locations. The second step is using the EPANET model to analyze water quality parameters throughout the distribution system. The main parameter that I’m examining is chlorine concentration. In EPANET, this means that you have to assign a chlorine dose at the sources (treatment plants or any water source) and then assign reaction coefficients for chlorine decay. Then you run the model that follows the logic of a mass balance to determine the differential quantities of chlorine throughout the distribution system.

EPANET Water Quality Model Output

Q:       Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Yes. For some reason, when you first look at the display on EPANET, it looks like an accurate map of a distribution system. However, the scale that is shown on the screen is not always accurate. In other words, a pipe length in one section appears to be the same as a pipe in another section. In reality, they are not the same length. In the beginning, I assumed the map was to scale. Now, I’m going back to ensure that the model in EPANET matches real physical properties such as pipe length. I also have had some complications when it comes to coding; it is a bit of a process to determine the optimal data structures to use for my analyses.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve these complications?

A:        Most of them, yes. I’ve been able to use a combination of tools in ArcGIS and coding in R programming language to correct many of the issues with the EPANET model.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        My research examines a continuous supply distribution system while a lot of what the research group focuses on is intermittent water supply. However, the overarching questions around when and where to sample for water quality still remain regardless of whether you are sampling in a continuous distribution system, intermittent distribution system, or even a natural water system.

Q:        Why did you get involved in research?

A:        At the core of this question, I have a desire to contribute to the studies that revolve around helping people to obtain clean drinking water. In 2014, I went on a trip to Haiti and I saw a lot of the issues surrounding water scarcity. I felt a strong call to serve the mission of helping people to get clean water. As time progressed, there were opportunities in research that were presented to me. I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Manhattan College which is where I was first exposed to research. Through those experiences, I felt that research was a great avenue to use my skills to serve this greater mission.

Q:        Why do you like your project in particular?

A:        I like it because it explores questions that not many people have dedicated a lot of thought to at this level of detail. I’m also able to use a large variety of tools to achieve my goals; I’m using EPANET, coding in R, and ArcGIS. This keeps the project exciting and different.

Interview with Graduate Student – Mimi Alkattan

Research Interview with Mimi Alkattan:

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background:Mimi Alkattan is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental and Water Resources engineering program and a graduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst currently pursuing a degree in the field of drinking water quality.

Q:       Could you tell me a little bit about your project?

Panoramic photo of the pilot-scale pipeloops

A:      My project investigates intermittent water supply (IWS) using a pilot scale-model of a water distribution system. This allows us to conduct experiments comparing intermittent water supply and continuous water supply. We’re mostly concerned with how intermittency impacts water quality; we know it has negative impacts on water quality, but we would like to gain a more specific understanding.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        The main objective is to gain a better understanding of how intermittency affects water quality. This would help us to develop solutions to better maintain water quality in intermittent systems.

Q:        As of now, what are your materials and methods for conducting your study?

A:       There are different components to the materials and methods we use for the intermittent water supply study. First, our experimental setup is pilot-scale and it includes 2 identical recirculating pipeloops that model drinking water distribution systems. The two pipeloops consist of 22 feet of 2-in PVC, a pump, and a 10-gallon reservoir. One is used as a continuous control while the other models intermittency. Second, we measure different water quality parameters such as pH, DO, temperature, turbidity, chloramine concentrations, heterotrophic plate count (HPC), and total iron concentrations. We measure those parameters with different instruments in the lab. The third part of our methods is one of the most important things that we want to characterize; these are the biofilms that grow on the on the inner surfaces of the pipe walls. In order to sample these biofilms, we use biofilm sampling coupons. The coupons are removable plugs made of 22-millimeter disks cut out from the pipe walls. They can be removed after experimentation so that we can analyze the composition of the biofilms and determine biofilm thickness.

Q:       Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Definitely. The really exciting thing about my research is that very few people have performed lab-based experimentation on intermittent water supply. Therefore, the main complication is that there are not any clearly defined methods on how to conduct the research. This means that I have to piece together how to do my research from different fields and develop some of the methods on my own. Another complication is that there are a lot of various components to the pipeloops (valves, sensors, gauges, meters, pumps, etc.) and they don’t always fit together on the first try.

Q:       Have you figured out how to solve these complications?

A:        Usually, the issues can be solved in a couple of tries through trial and error.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        Two of the major focuses of our research group are drinking water distribution systems and international water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH). My research lies at the intersection of both of those issues since IWS is common in low- and middle-income countries.

Q:        Why did you get involved in research?

A:        When I was a senior in high school, I took an environmental science class and it was the first time I realized that clean drinking water is a global challenge. That motivated me to go to college and study environmental engineering. I became very interested in research because it helps to develop solutions for these global drinking water challenges.

Photo of a biofilm coupon to scale 

Q:        Why do you like your project in particular?

A:        I am really excited to be working on my project because it involves the things I’m really interested in such as drinking water, water distribution, water quality, public health, and issues of inequity. Also, my project allows me to learn a lot of different things including experimental setup, microbiological methods, and more about water distribution piping, fittings, connections, and sensing.

Interview with Undergraduate Honors Student – Akshay Delity

Research Interview with Akshay Delity

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background:Akshay Delity is a senior mechanical engineering student and an undergraduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently pursuing his Honors Thesis in the field of drinking water quality.

Q:          Could you tell me a little bit about your thesis?

Model of turbulent kinetic energy from tank emptying via gravity

A:        The title is An experimentally backed computational model of intermittent water storage tanks. So basically, I’m using CFD (Computational fluid dynamics) to calculate different characteristics of a storage tank (temperature, hydraulic residence time, etc.) and examine the effect of different inlet and outlet geometries on microbial growth.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        Ideally, I’m hoping to create a plug-and-play model. The inputs would be storage tank characteristics such as temperature, hydraulic residence time, and most significantly, inlet and outlet geometries. The output would simply be a value for microbial growth. The purpose of the model is to inform the process of optimizing the tank to increase mixing, decrease stagnation, and in turn, decrease microbial growth. The end product of my thesis will be a recommendation for optimal inlet and outlet geometries.

Q:         As of now, what are your methods for conducting the lab tests?

A:        Right now, I’m still working on the computer model and running simulations. Each simulation takes between 2-4 days. The reason it takes so long is because I’m tracking a lot of parameters; I split the tank up into 25,000 differential elements and I’m monitoring the changes in the parameter values in each of those elements.

Q:        Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        I didn’t have knowledge in CFD before I proposed the project. So I’ve been learning it on the job. One big complication was switching from steady state modelling where all the boundary conditions (inlet flow, air-water mixture inside the tank, radiation, conduction, etc.) remain the same to transient modelling where the boundary conditions are constantly changing. Because of that, I was getting results that I thought were right, but they weren’t actually accurate.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve that complication?

A:        For the most part, yes. With every iteration, you have to specify more things so it takes longer each time. So it’s a slow process, but I’ve figured out how to manage it.

Model of storage tank filling under constant heating from solar radiation

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        Water storage is an integral component of any intermittent water system and we focus on intermittent water supply in the research group. Water quality is often generally poor in intermittent systems so hopefully this model can provide a simple way to improve a system component very easily; all you have to do is change geometries of the inlets and outlets once you use the model.

 

Q:        Why did you get involved in research as an undergraduate student?

A:        Engineers Without Borders (EWB) was my main influence. As soon as Dr. Kumpel joined the faculty, her research focus seemed to be the perfect segue to what I was already doing with EWB and I wanted to get involved in the research group.

Q:        Why did you choose your project in particular?

A:        Through my work with EWB and in the research group, it became clear that I couldn’t come up with a single novel technology that could improve all the problems associated with IWS. However, I still wanted to use my mechanical engineering background to improve some technical portion of an IWS system. I learned that behavioral changes are often the main improvements that can be made to influence water quality. So I chose a project that would incorporate my technical knowledge while addressing a behavioral change that could be made that would have a big effect on water quality.

Interview with Graduate Student – LeighAnn D’Andrea

Research Interview with LeighAnn D’Andrea:

Author: Stephen Stamegna

Background:LeighAnn D’Andrea is a second year Masters student and a graduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is currently pursuing her Masters project in the field of drinking water quality and citizen science.

Q:     Could you tell me a little bit about your Master’s research?

A:     My project is focused on the potential of citizen science f
or collecting data about drinking water. Citizen science has been used in monitoring groundwater and surface water quality, but there hasn’t been much research in at-home drinking water quality. We are researching the potential of citizen scientists to test and record different drinking water quality parameters of the water in their homes. We’re doing this by conducting trials on different test kits that citizens can use to treat their water.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        The end goal is to work toward some sort of social media input system where anybody anywhere could simply type in what they found about their drinking water quality and the information could all be stored in one place. That way if there is some issue with drinking water quality in a community, an alert could go out to everybody who is receiving water from that source. Another goal is to help citizens take ownership of their drinking water.

Q:        As of now, what are your methods for conducting the lab tests?

A:        Using a list of contaminants that we want to test with each of the waterquality test kits, solutions of known concentrations are made for each of the contaminants in the lab. Then, the kits are used to test the concentrations of each of the solutions with the intent of determining how accurate each kit is. The kits that prove to produce accurate readings are given to citizen scientists, at which point we can determine how user-friendly the kits are based on the citizens’ experiences. The whole point is to find a kit that is both accurate and easy to use.

Q:        Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Yes, there are basic lab complications that occur. I don’t always know a lot about how different chemicals react with each other, so it’s a lot of trial and error. Also, becoming familiar with the research process is always a work in progress.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve those complications?

A:        Asking for help from my peers has been a huge help. There is also a lot of literature that is useful when trying to solve different types of problems.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        It falls in place with the overarching theme of ensuring that communities have access to safe drinking water. We want communities and individuals to take ownership of the safety of their drinking water.

Q:        Why did you go to graduate school?

A:        I wanted to take my education one step further. The topics that I’m most passionate about are drinking water quality and working with people to make sure that they have safe water to drink. I figured that graduate school would be a great opportunity to learn more about this field.

Q:        Why did you choose your project in particular?

A:        I got really sick in Peru from drinking water and that was the reason that motivated me to study water quality. I got sick with Giardia and it opened my eyes to the fact that people shouldn’t get sick from a basic requirement of life like water.

Q:    What are your plans for after graduation?

A:     I enter Active Duty on May 12thand I will be stationed at Cannon Air Force Base. I’ll be with their Civil Engineering Special Operations Squadron as an Officer of Civil Engineering. Cannon Air Force Base is the Air Force’s Special Operations Command

Interview with Undergraduate Honors Student – Hannah Wharton

Research Interview with Hannah Wharton:
Author: Stephen Stamegna

 Background: Hannah Wharton is a senior civil engineering student and an undergraduate member of the Kumpel Research Group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is currently pursuing her Honors Thesis in the field of drinking water treatment.

Q:        Could you tell me a little bit about your thesis?

A:        I’m testing the effectiveness of different household drinking water treatment devices. Some of these devices function through filtration and some through disinfection. I’m measuring the log removal of E. coli and total coliform when water is passed through each device. Basically, the log removal refers to the difference between the initial and final concentrations of each contaminant in the water after when it has passed through the treatment device.

Q:        What do you hope to achieve through this research?

A:        There is not currently a global standard for how effective household drinking water treatment devices should be. In particular, there is not a standard method for how these devices should be tested nor is there a requirement for the level of contaminant removal that they should meet. That being said, my hope is to develop a standard testing method and a standard metric for the log removal of both E. coli and total coliform.

Q:        As of now, what are your methods for conducting the lab tests?

A:        I measure the initial concentrations of E. coli and total coliform before the water is passed through each device. Then, I run the water through the device and measure the final concentrations afterwards. This is all done using IDEXX bacteria testing.

Q:        Have you experienced any complications in your research?

A:        Yes. We have been using water from the Mill River near the Amherst Wastewater Treatment Plant on the UMass campus. However, it has been difficult to measure the log removal of E. coli and total coliform. Basically, the initial concentrations are very high and the final concentrations are so low that they do not produce any measurable results.

Q:        Have you figured out how to solve that complication?

A:        We figured that it would be possible to measure the log removal if the initial concentrations were even higher than those of the Mill River water. So our first attempt to solve the issue was to use secondary effluent from the Amherst Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, the same issue has risen with this water as well. These observations have raised some noteworthy points. It is interesting that the initial concentrations between the Mill River water and the secondary effluent are so similar. Additionally, if the final concentrations are so low, these devices are most likely very effective at removing contaminants. This is a good thing, but it makes it difficult to label metrics to the effectiveness each device.

Q:        How does your research relate to the research group at large?

A:        The research group mission consists of a focus on drinking water quality and intermittent water supply (IWS) through international projects, especially those in developing countries. A lot of times, the household drinking water treatment devices that I am working with are used in developing countries that use IWS as a means of distributing water.

Q:        Why did you get involved in research as an undergraduate student?

A:        I think that research gives you a great hands-on experience through lab work. You get to develop knowledge and skills that you have learned in the classroom and put them to practice in real-world applications. I also enjoy the challenge of having a research question that I am trying to pursue.

Q:        Why did you choose your project in particular?

A:        At an early stage in my college career, I wanted to be involved on campus. So I joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and I was able to travel to Kenya to work on drinking water access projects. Through these experiences, I saw the complications associated with drinking water in developing countries. This inspired my interest in pursuing research in the drinking water treatment field. I think it is really important to have reliable drinking water treatment systems, especially in areas where the water is not safe to drink and leads to a lot of public health problems.

Additional Material: Below are some pictures of Hannah’s lab setup and the different drinking

water treatment devices with which she is working.

Updates – October 2016

Abstract: Universal access to safe drinking water is prioritized in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Collecting reliable and actionable water quality information in low-resource settings, however, is challenging, and little is known about the correspondence between water quality data collected by local monitoring agencies and global frameworks for water safety. Using 42 926 microbial water quality test results from 32 surveillance agencies and water suppliers in seven sub-Saharan African countries, we determined the degree to which water sources were monitored, how water quality varied by source type, and institutional responses to results. Sixty-four percent of the water samples were collected from piped supplies, although the majority of Africans rely on nonpiped sources. Piped supplies had the lowest levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) compared to any other source type: only 4% of samples of water piped to plots and 2% of samples from water piped to public taps/standpipes were positive for FIB (n = 14 948 and n = 12 278, respectively). Among other types of improved sources, samples from harvested rainwater and boreholes were less often positive for FIB (22%, n = 167 and 31%, n = 3329, respectively) than protected springs or protected dug wells (39%, n = 472 and 65%, n = 505). When data from different settings were aggregated, the FIB levels in different source types broadly reflected the source-type water safety framework used by the Joint Monitoring Programme. However, the insufficient testing of nonpiped sources relative to their use indicates important gaps in current assessments. Our results emphasize the importance of local data collection for water safety management and measurement of progress toward universal safe drinking water access.