William Paterson University Interdisciplinary Team of Professors Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Study Hudson and Passaic Regional Water Quality and Availability

Professors Marianne Sullivan, public health, Nicole Davi, environmental science, and Lilian Milanés, community and social justice studies

An interdisciplinary team of William Paterson University professor-researchers has been awarded a nearly $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to study access to reliable and safe drinking water and recreational waterways with a focus on equity in access to these resources.

The grant is a part of the National Science Foundation’s more than $12 million investment in their Build and Broaden Program, which focuses on supporting research, offering training opportunities and creating greater research infrastructure at minority-serving institutions such as historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities.

 The interdisciplinary team of researchers will work to examine the social, behavioral, health, and climatic aspects related to water resources in the New York-New Jersey Watershed. William Paterson University professors included on the team are Nicole Davi, PhD, environmental science professor, Marianne Sullivan, DrPH, public health professor, and Lilian Milanés, PhD, community and social justice studies professor, and a professor from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

 “Climate change impacts are already being felt across the country and a warming environment already impacts our water resources,” Davi said. “This grant provides opportunities to show public audiences and students how climate change is impacting water availability in the New Jersey/New York region and how residents perceive their water quality and equity of water quality.”

The goals of the research team are to: 

1] Document and understand the vulnerabilities of safe drinking water and recreational water sources imposed by natural and human-forced changes in regional climate and the legacy of environmental pollution by industry;   

2] Assess environmental justice issues related to specific ongoing drinking water remediation projects;   

3] Understand how water vulnerabilities correlate with socio-economic patterns in the New York-New Jersey Watershed; and    

4] Explore perceptions of water vulnerabilities to examine how institutional racism and intersectionality relate to perceptions of water quality and safety.   

Students will become an integral component of the research and will join Davi for fieldwork in the Catskill Mountain region to sample trees for tree-ring records to discover a centuries-long record of drought in the region.

Sullivan and her students will focus on two areas. They will work with the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative to develop a web-based tool for creating environmental justice analyses of New Jersey drinking water quality. They will also examine the process of lead service line replacement in New Jersey and the extent to which environmental justice considerations are prioritized in this process.

Milanés will work with students to concentrate on the intersectional lived aspects of race, class and gender of people and their drinking water. Her team will conduct participant observation, surveys, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with Paterson community members to understand perceptions of water quality, access, and the implications on overall health and well-being. 

A planned outcome for the research is a new curriculum for a multidisciplinary course centered around the theme of regional water vulnerability. The multidisciplinary curriculum will afford students hands-on experience and engagement in the history of the region, the environmental and public health problems caused by legacy pollution along waterways, and future vulnerabilities to drought and flooding.

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