Getting My Feet Wet

By Dena Vallano

In September 2011, I arrived at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) ready to learn. Trained as a plant ecologist, I had spent much of my prior time tackling scientific issues with my feet safely on the ground (and mostly away from water). But that all changed as I became aware of the increasing challenges that many communities are facing related to limited water resources and aging water infrastructure.

That is why the EPA’s partnership with the Army to achieve “Net Zero” is so important to solving our most critical economic and environmental challenges related to sustainability, not only on military installations but in communities across the nation.

The goal of the Net Zero Initiative is to ensure that Army installations only consume as much energy and water as they produce and minimize waste sent to landfills. EPA scientists and engineers are providing their skills and expertise to bring cutting-edge research assistance to the effort surrounding water at two installations, Fort Riley in Kansas and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

One of two waste water treatment facilities at Ft. Riley.

Since signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Army in November 2011, EPA staff  have been hard at work advancing the Net Zero Initiative. On July 10-11, 2012, EPA scientists and local representatives met with Army staff at Fort Riley, KS to identify and discuss their challenges with water infrastructure and specific technology needs.

The visit allowed the team to gain first-hand knowledge of the installation’s facilities and prioritize Fort Riley’s specific needs for innovative technologies and tools that can be collaboratively developed and demonstrated by the team. The team identified the following potential projects for collaborative development and demonstration:

  • Waste water reuse technologies and approaches
  • Behavioral/social campaign to focus on culture changes needed to reduce water consumption
  • Innovative technologies to reduce water loss on the installation and address aging water infrastructure

ORD will continue to refine and scope potential projects with installation personnel, EPA’s Office of Water, and Region 7.   A similar site visit to scope projects with Joint Base Lewis-McChord is expected in Fall 2012.

It has been a fantastic experience to work on achieving “Net Zero” with the EPA—I’m so glad that I had the chance to get my feet a little wet during my fellowship.

About the author: Dr. Dena Vallano is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in EPA’s Office for Research and Development. Prior to her fellowship, she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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