Although water is often overlooked or taken for granted, it was the subject of a recent presentation by Dr. Melissa Kenney, an assistant research professor in Environmental Decision Analysis and Indicators at the University of Maryland. In keeping with the University’s two-year focus on water, Kenney, the recipient of the Sigma Xi science research honor society Young Investigator Award, came to Fairfield to speak on her extensive research on water and the potential risks involved in stream restoration.
The event was part of the University-wide water theme that was revealed last year. This, along with other events such as the water bottle initiative, have been showing students the importance of conserving water and saving the environment.
The University has adopted the theme of water to help students be mindful about issues involving scarcities and consider solutions to these problems.
Kenney, who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, explained that she always had an “enduring interest in water.”
“I’ve always loved being in the environment, but I wanted to do something with water resources in high school. We did a lot of classes where we went outside and learned about forestry and stream restoration. We did a stream restoration project my senior year of high school, and it really got me started down that pathway.”
Kenney now has a position which focuses on integrating science and policy.
Kenney spoke on the importance of this topic, not only for scientists, but for everybody.
“We’re all part of the environment and we all use the environment, and we want to enjoy the environment. If we want to enjoy the environment in future generations that means we have to know how we can protect it.”
Senior Lindsey Klemm, a board member to involve the School of Nursing in the water initiative, added, “It’s great how the University is getting involved in a theme as important as water. It’s a way for us to come together and work toward a common goal.”
Some 15 students attended the talk, most of whom were there for classes. Around 15 faculty members also attended.
Some of the students who came for class ended up learning something new and exciting.
Junior Jeanne Berberich said that she learned that “science isn’t just facts; it’s also your personal outlook. If you want to fix streams, it will happen, but if you don’t care, it won’t happen.”
Junior Taryn Druge added, “It gave a unique perspective because it considered the environmental benefits, but it also weighed them against the decision making and policy.”
Kenney explored the idea of stream restoration, which the famous biochemist John Cairns defines as “the structural and functional return of a degraded riverine ecosystem to its pre-disturbance condition.” She examined whether or not stream restoration is worth the trouble it causes by investigating three of the major goals of stream restoration: water quality benefits, infrastructure benefits and aesthetic and recreational benefits.
In the end, Kenney concluded that, “based solely on infrastructure, water quality, and aesthetics and recreation, there is no way to justify the cost of stream restoration. The dollar figures just don’t add up.”
Kenney also stated that there are much more cost effective alternatives that can still have the same outcomes as stream restoration.
“If we spend money on costly projects,” she explained, “it reduces our opportunities to spend money on other important projects.”
Kenney’s final bit of advice was for students interested in scientific research and environmental policy: “Get some exposure to scientific research. Organizations like the Fairfield Sigma Xi chapter both recognize undergraduate scientific achievement through membership in the honor society as well as can help to serve as a way of helping you to find good matches for the kinds of research experiences you’ll be able to identify them. Regardless of whether or not you want to become a lab scientist or a scientist more like what I do … it helps to get the experience because you can appreciate the work that goes into developing new knowledge and not just using it.”