Water Challenges, Past, Present, and Future


Date Thursday November 8th 2007
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium

PARC Forum

Water is one of the most precious of resources. Quantities needed to sustain life as we know it far exceed that of all other resources combined. Yet the cost for collecting, treating, and delivering it to the consumer, and then transporting, treating, and discharging the used water back into the environment are seldom recognized by the average citizen because they are so low compared with other costs, at least in developed countries. For the developing nations, this is not the case. Over 1 billion people still lack adequate access to a safe drinking water supply, and over half of the world’s population lacks basic sanitation. Water quality problems of the past due to pathogens, dissolved oxygen deficits in rivers, industrial and municipal wastes, and excessive aquatic growth due to discharge of fertilizing nutrients have been addressed adequately in many cases, but are still of great importance. Over the past 50 years, the production of a great number of new chemicals that resist normal biological processes for biodegradation have entered the market place and have contributed to a new major problem of Persistent organic pollutants. Pollution of groundwaters with chlorinated solvents and petroleum hydrocarbons and of surface waters and their sediments with DDT and PCBs have presented major challenges to the environmental engineering profession that are still being addressed. Now, global change poses a new major threat to water availability and distribution throughout the world, raising new concerns and questions about how to control the rate of change and adapt to it. Interestingly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that four percent of the equivalent anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the world result from methane and nitrous oxide produced from wastewater, solid wastes, and animal manure. Thus, those in the environmental engineering field must work to reduce the contribution that wastes make to climate change while at the same time learning how to address the impacts climate change will have on water availability. For example, if methane gas produced by wastes is collected and used as a biofuel, not only will the methane emissions decrease, but also the need for fossil fuels could be decreased as well. Indeed, the potential to produce methane from wastewater treatment might be exploited to a greater extent than it has at present to turn a potential problem into a significant benefit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How might wastes best be handled in the future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how might this change our current practices? These questions will be explored in this seminar.


Perry L. McCarty, Silas H. Palmer Professor Emeritus, joined the Stanford University faculty in 1962 when he came to develop the environmental engineering and science program. From 1980 to 1985 he was Chairman of Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and from 1989 to 2002 served as Director of the Western Region Hazardous Substance Research Center. He has a B.S. Degree in civil engineering from Wayne State University (1953), and M.S. (1957) and Sc.D. (1959) degrees in sanitary engineering from M.I.T.

His research interests have been in biological processes for the control of environmental contaminants. His early research was on anaerobic treatment processes, biological processes for nitrogen removal, and water reuse. Current interests are on aerobic and anaerobic biological processes for control of hazardous chemicals, advanced wastewater treatment processes, and movement, fate, and control of groundwater contaminants.

He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1977 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996. He received the John and Alice Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1992, the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for Outstanding Achievements in Water Science and Technology in 1997, and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2007.

Prof. McCarty has over 300 publications, and is coauthor of the textbooks, Chemistry for Environmental Engineering and Science, and Environmental Biotechnology - Principles and Applications. He has been active with several professional groups, especially the National Academies with memberships since 1971 on three Councils, two Boards, and 19 Committees. Among his other awards are an honorary Doctorate from the Colorado School of Mines, Honorary membership in the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation, and Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology. He was selected by the National Academies to be the 2001 Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecturer. Among other awards are the Harrison P. Eddy Award for Noteworthy Research (1964 and 1977) and the Thomas Camp Award for Unique Application of Engineering Research (1975) of the Water Environment Federation; the A. P. Black Research Award of the American Water Works Association (1989); and the Walter L. Huber Research Prize (1964), the Simon W. Freese Environmental Engineering Lecture Award (1979), and J. James R. Croes Medal (1995) of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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