November 18, 2012

Peer Review: Jennifer Weidman ’13 Aims to Improve Water Quality in Kenya

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Jennifer Weidman ’13, environmental engineering, is interested in helping others understand the importance of monitoring water quality, especially in developing nations. Her passions have led her to conduct research with the School for Field Studies in Kenya last Spring.

While in Kenya, Weidman focused her research on human encroachment, or when people advance on water resources beyond certain limitations.

The public river that she conducted her research at lacked proper waste management.  As a result, pollution was prevalent in the water source.

“The way the human population is interacting with the river is unsustainable in terms of the water quantity and quality, and that’s having a negative implication for human health surrounding the river,” Weidman said.

Weidman also said that a lot of water is lost when people pump it through furrow irrigation.  That’s because the water seeps into the soil when passing through the furrows. These methods are inefficient uses of water according to Weidman, because not enough of it reaches the crops. Water diversion causes, decreases in the flow of water down the stream and affects vegetation and biodiversity.

In addition to these problems concerning the amount of water, there are also problems pertaining to water quality in the streams. Human settlement and activities cause erosion to increase as well as add to the waste production.

Weidman showed that in Kenya, longer rivers were more likely to have lower water quality. These rivers also become more contaminated with l microbiological pathogens from human and animal waste as the water velocity decreases.

“There were higher instances of human health issues as you traveled down the stream,” Weidman said. “More people experienced waterborne diseases, caused by ingestion from the water.”

According to Weidman, the water quality declines as water streams decline, making the water unsanitary and posing health problems for the population.

Weidman recommended several policy implementations to address this issue to the Waste Management Authority in Kenya, such as having the government restrict human settlement and agricultural practices within the riparian zone width of 30 meters.  She also proposed that government officials work with NGOs to educate local communities on sanitation and promote suitable waste disposable methods. Weidman also suggested using more efficient methods, such as drip irrigation, for getting water to agriculture.

Weidman said that these recommendations and changes can bring benefits to everyone as water resources are managed efficiently and sustainably. Having experienced firsthand the relationship between environmental resources and its people, Weidman shows great enthusiasm of her experience.

“Just being able to walk through communities along this river and speak with people along the way was incredible,” she said.

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Original Author: Junsuk Ahn