Why I’m Joining Tulane’s Bywater Institute
New opportunity to push the boundaries of what’s possible for creating water abundance
Industrial and agricultural pollution. Equity of access to drinking water and sanitation. Sea level rise and coastal resilience. These are among the most pressing water issues facing the United States. It’s time to get serious about addressing them — which means finding solutions at scales that matter.
That’s why I’m thrilled to share with you the news that I’m joining Tulane University next month to become director of the university’s ByWater Institute. Directing ByWater gives me a double opportunity: 1) to lead research in a major coastal city with a river at its heart and a painful history of vulnerability to climate change’s impacts; and 2) to lead research on improving water resource management in the Mississippi River Basin, which is the biggest contributor to U.S. coastal pollution as well as a locus of water resource inequity. Bywater’s research and community engagement can not only spearhead solutions on these issues; it can also help set standards for urban- and basin-level solutions across the world.
Tackling big water challenges in a meaningful way also requires the right culture and institutional support. It was clear to me from the moment I met Tulane’s leadership — which is highly multidisciplinary — that water is a priority at the university’s highest levels, which is extremely rare in American higher education. (For instance, Tulane just created a new department within its School of Science and Engineering focused on rivers and coasts.) Water is, in fact, one of Tulane’s four pillar missions as a university, and its leadership wants ByWater to be both nationally and internationally recognized. Universities can’t be good at everything — they have to make choices. Tulane’s energy, expertise and commitment to water research and solutions is tremendously exciting.
Where do I want to lead ByWater? Here are initial thoughts:
- I want to create a center of research excellence around urban water and urban water equity issues in a city that is the poster child for climate change impacts in the United States.
- We should also strategically contribute to basin-scale thinking about natural and water resource management in the Mississippi. Data science and dead zone research should combine here. Could New Orleans be a hotbed of innovation for top-shelf science identifying the mechanisms by which dead zones happen and can be mitigated? And how do we use data to help identify the right projects and measure impacts? This work has the potential to attract both federal and corporate partners — and generate enormous value for other big basins such as the Mekong and the Amazon.
- Tulane has a School of Public Health, and its leadership is focused on growing a new environmental health program as well as on equity issues. This commitment provides a perfect platform for focusing some of Bywater’s work on New Orleans.
- And I’d like to make Bywater a place where scientists and engineers can work directly with architects to develop multi-purpose infrastructure that has aesthetic appeal while also being functional and resilient.
My new opportunity would not have been possible without my experience here at ASU, and I’m immensely grateful for all I’ve learned here. For the past seven years I have had the chance to build Future H2O at the most innovative university in the country. Innovation is part of ASU’s DNA and I directly benefited from encouragement at the top levels to think outside the box; to cross boundaries unapologetically; and to connect research to outcomes with real-world impact. In how many other universities would a university biology department tolerate a biologist becoming an engineer and allow for that development to flourish? ASU taught me the conditions and culture a research institution must create to make research really mean something to communities. I look forward to taking those lessons with me to Tulane.
I can’t wait for the challenge ahead. At the ByWater Institute I’ll continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for creating water abundance on a scale that benefits more people and more communities more quickly. And I’m eager to collaborate with you in this new opportunity. Please email me your ideas — and I’ll continue to keep you updated here in my Medium channel.