Reflections: From International to Local Water Levels

I’m an Environmental Specialist in international development and although I’ve worked across the world, lately I’ve become interested in understanding the local water related environmental issues in my home base. So once I read about the Clean Water 2016 Conference, I knew it would be the perfect place to delve into the Chesapeake Bay environmental concerns. I started my career working for environmental engineering consulting firms in the US but for the past eleven and a half years, I’ve been working in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia and a bit in Europe. The following are some musings on my experience of the conference through the lens of my international background.

One of the first differences I realized is that in this conference, there were two very educational sessions and a field trip on stormwater management. This is a developed country concern. In most of the developing countries I work in, they are still working on getting water to more of their citizens and to a lesser extent, trying to provide some degree of sanitation.

Another issue that came up was that cash strapped local governments, already spread thin with many commitments, were looking to the private sector to bring in additional resources to deal with water pollution including stormwater treatment. This strategy of involving the private sector through public private partnerships to increase resources was a popular strategy in the 90s and beyond in many developing countries. We even studied it back when I was a Master’s student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. It could be useful to review how successful these strategies actually were in practice.

Ironically, I had quite the health scare after finding a stubborn tick on my belly two days after the stormwater field trips in MD. In the developed world, developing countries as often thought of as hotbeds for disease and sickness, but I’ve only gotten sick two times on work trips. Once with a cold in Bangladesh (as opposed to the diarrhea that visitors often get there) and food poisoning in Uganda. I guess I should have put on the bug repellent I spotted on the table where we gathered before getting on the buses…

Besides stormwater management, another topic that interested me was the nutrient (pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen) trading session in which practitioners reported on their experiences. I conducted a midterm review of a project in Hungary a few years ago which looked at reducing nutrients using both constructed treatment wetlands and a tertiary level wastewater treatment plant. The Hungary project was part of a series of other similar projects in Eastern Europe which aimed to reduce the pollution going into the Danube River and eventually the Black Sea.

All in all, the conference was extremely educational and very well attended by the main players in Chesapeake Bay Restoration efforts. Even the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy showed up! If you care about clean water, the environment or the Chesapeake Bay, this conference is not to be missed.

About The Author:

Nicole Maywah is an Environmental Specialist Consultant based in Washington, DC focusing on environmental safeguards for international development and water resources/infrastructure. She holds a Master’s in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard College in Environmental Science and Public Policy.