Archive of Wolman Lectures

2012 Lecture: Dr. Michael Kavanaugh
Tradeoffs in Water Quality Management: Risk, Economics, and Equity

Degradation of the quality of the nation’s aquatic resources has often been an unfortunate consequence of economic progress. Along with many past instances of unsustainable waste disposal practices across the nation, there are likewise many success stories. These include elimination of acute water‐ borne diseases and delivery of safe drinking water, mitigation of surface water degradation through advances in wastewater treatment, and most recently, protection and restoration of groundwater resources that have been degraded by anthropogenic discharges.

In the twenty‐first century, policies aimed at protecting water resources in the U.S. and other developed nations have entered a new phase. This new setting features more complex tradeoffs between environmental and health risks, cost‐effective reductions in incremental risk, and ensuring equitable allocation of financial resources applied to mitigate risks to human health and the environment. Water quality management decisions are further complicated by ever‐increasing sensitivity of monitoring and detection systems, and the challenges of communicating sophisticated and nuanced risks to a skeptical public in a litigious world. Risk, economics, and equity are increasingly interconnected in many water quality management decisions where the time and geographic boundaries of decision making continue to expand beyond an individual project.

Drawing on some of his four decades of experience as a consulting engineer, Dr. Kavanaugh will explore the tradeoffs facing water quality managers and other decision makers in three sectors; a) protection and restoration of contaminated groundwater resources, b) control of trace contaminants in the aquatic environment, and c) planned or unplanned (de facto) potable reuse of wastewater. In each of these sectors, the inevitable tradeoffs between the level of residual risk, cost, and equitable allocation provoke controversies that may require use of creative alternative dispute resolution strategies, rather than extensive delays in decision making or lengthy legal actions.

Lecture flyer


2008 Lecture - Peter H. Gleick
A Sustainable Vision for Water in the Twenty-First Century - Listen to Lecture (audio 39MB) or Download Lecture (pdf)

2006 Lecture - John M. Barry
Hydrology, Politics, and Katrina: Looking Backward, Going Forward

2004 Lecture - James Morgan
What Water Quality Is. Matrices of Sources, Uses, Criteria, Standards, and Technology

2003 Lecture - John J. Boland
Thinking About the Demands for Water Services: Why Is It Difficult to Understand?

2002 Lecture - Rita Colwell
A Global Thirst for Safe Water: The Case of Cholera

2001 Lecture - Perry McCarthy
Water Technology Development in the Twenty-First Century: What Should We Do, Not What Can We Do?

1999 Lecture - Gilbert White
Water Science and Technology: Some Lessons from the 20th Century

1998 Lecture - Kader Asmal
Water Life and Justice: A Late 20th Century Reflection From The South

The lecture was created by the Water Science and Technology Board in memory of Abel Wolman - Engineer, Scientist, Educator, and Advocate for Public Health through improved Water Supply and Sanitation. This is sponsored by National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Geological Survey.