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Universities team up to plan next-generation water infrastructure

Inside the Flint water treatment plant.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Inside the Flint water treatment plant.

The Next Idea

Take the combined brainpower of Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University and apply that to solving the water infrastructure problems we face not only in Flint, but across Michigan.

That’s the idea behind a program launched by Michigan’s University Research Corridor schools. It’s called IN-Water, Infrastructure Network for Water.

Michigan State University’s Joan Rose is part of the IN-Water team. She’s an internationally recognized expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health and safety. She’s also the 2016 recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize, the world’s most prestigious water award.

On the ground, this pilot program starts as a series of workshops, Rose said. The goal is to bring water leaders together to draw up a road map for how to help communities update their water systems.

“These are people from government, from private industry, non-profit and academics,” Rose said. “We want to create this idea of what might we do. What would the road map look like to actually move knowledge to practice? Where are the gaps and who needs to be at the tables? Who needs this knowledge?”

She said this group should include leaders from the city and from utilities. It should also work to communicate plans to community members.

What happened in Flint is one propeller driving this pilot network forward.

“All the suffering that the community has had has precipitated a national dialogue around water, and the need to rethink how we get innovation--how we get new treatment technologies, how we get more monitoring into small communities in particular, or into communities that are struggling with their water infrastructure,” Rose said.

The overall mission, she said, is to bring resources together to “translate knowledge into practice.”

“Universities have such broad-ranging endeavors – everything from, you know, studying the molecules and the nanoparticles within water to very practical innovations around technology… but often we don’t get the opportunities to test those out in the real world, to understand how the new information and the new data can actually be turned into knowledge,” Rose said. “That really makes a difference in normal people’s lives.”

For the full conversation, listen below.

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*This story was originally broadcast on April 10, 2017.

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