The Mitchell Center Sustainability Talks lecture series strives to educate the University of Maine and the surrounding communities on different areas of sustainability. On Nov. 1, Kiley Daley, an adjunct professor, discussed his research on water insecurity, the negative health impacts it can cause and different ways of counteracting them.
Water insecurity is defined as the lack of access to clean water. Access to clean water allows for healthy life and can be impacted by a wide range of environmental and human-based factors: sociocultural dynamics, economic and environmental policy and environments not suitable for pumps. Most of Daley’s research focuses on water quality as it applies to water use at the domestic level, specifically its impact on human health and how it can be improved.
The problems that are most impactful can be categorized into two groups: water quality and water quantity. Both of these categories can have a negative impact on human health. Unclean water can lead to diseases, while lack of water can cause growth defects. Water insecurity can also impact mental health, as a lack of water can add exorbitant amounts of stress. Lastly, it can affect the socioeconomic status of a community.
Daley also emphasized that water insecurity isn’t just an issue in low-income countries like many people believe; it’s also a dilemma that both the United States and Canada need to address. About 1.1 million people in the United States don’t have access to piped water, and the people most affected by this are disproportionately people of color, Indigenous people and low-income communities.
Prior to Daley’s research, he spent time in remote Inuit communities in Arctic Canada and not only got to know the people living there, but also encountered firsthand the struggle with water insecurity these people faced. There he discovered the importance of community engagement with problems like this.
“The population that is most impacted by a problem probably knows a lot about some ideas to solve it,” Daley said of the inspiration to continue his research in a way that was collaborative and inclusive of the voices of those being affected.
The water in these communities can’t be sourced from underground wells, so their water gets transported in trucks and stored in portable water storage tanks. Similarly, wastewater must also be transported by truck, so each home is outfitted with a wastewater storage tank that gets emptied out and treated at a nearby plant.
Through data collection, he discovered that more than 50% of homes had a lack of water. They recommended an increase of water delivery in response, but nothing came of it until 2020, when the pandemic required more water for good hygiene. When it comes to wastewater, Daley also conducted research on the minimum standard of treatment. This was important because of the Inuit’s reliance on the environment and the health risks if the areas overlap.
Through more data collection and health risk assessment models, they were able to discover that wastewater exposure was a potential factor for high levels of gastrointestinal illness in two out of five communities. They theorized that two solutions were possible: increasing the standard for water treatment and targeting behavioral standards, like creating signage to show where run off is or communicating with the community to find a way to distance exposure to sites.
For more information on upcoming Mitchell Center Sustainability Talks, or for a way to watch this lecture, visit: https://umaine.edu/mitchellcenter/seminars/fall-2021-sustainability-talks/.