WIGF Program: 2023 Cohort

Beneficial Reuse of Wastewater (BREW): Overcoming Barriers and Identifying Opportunities



The University of Florida Water Institute is seeking five doctoral-degree students interested in joining an interdisciplinary team that will work collaboratively to investigate agricultural, biogeochemical, bioengineering and public perception aspects of the beneficial use of reclaimed water (RW) in Florida. Fellowships will provide an annual stipend, tuition waiver and health insurance for 4 years starting fall term 2023.

The 2023 Water Institute Graduate Fellows (WIGF) Program offers a unique interdisciplinary graduate training environment focused on integrating research on RW use to promote solutions to global water scarcity that incorporate the needs of agriculture, environmental protection, and society. Fellows will investigate environmental and human health barriers associated with reclaimed water use including elevated nutrient concentrations and pollutants as well as negative public perception for potable uses. The interdisciplinary team will seek to collectively answer the question: How can we address projected water scarcity by overcoming barriers to RW use and expand use of RW in a way that provides the most benefit? Students will develop disciplinary expertise in agricultural sciences, biogeochemistry, bioengineering and geography, and will also be trained in ethical conduct of research, conflict management, grant writing, science communication (via traditional and social media), and other professional development skills.

Research themes

The 2023 WIGF cohort will study barriers and opportunities for RW use in agriculture, environmental/landscape, and potable uses in Florida while improving understanding public perception and optimizing RW quality and quantity through bioengineering. This focus will provide a venue to further interdisciplinary research and allow students to address system-level questions within a single region. Examples of potential research topics (and their faculty leaders) include:

1) Agricultural RW Uses (D. Kadyampakeni, M. Lusk, A. Reisinger, A. Zimmerman): To enhance and expand RW application in agriculture, water and nutrient savings and associated yield benefits in commercial agriculture should be quantified, leading to the questions: Under what conditions will greater application of RW to citrus crops yield higher production without detriment to soil quality? Can RW be productively used for crops not currently making use of RW? Can fertilizer application rates be reduced through substitution with RW-associated nutrients? To what extent will salts, nutrients and pesticides in RW be retained by soils, perhaps with engineered amendments, near their point of application?

2) Environmental and Landscape RW Uses (A. Reisinger, M. Lusk, A. Zimmerman): Using nutrient-rich RW for landscape irrigation, wetland replenishment, and aquifer recharge can potentially reduce fertilizer application rates, but can also negatively affect water quality, leading to the questions: What is the annual load of contaminants present in RW used for environmental and landscape applications? Given the nutrient loads in RW, can recommended fertilizer application rates be reduced without negatively affecting other aspects of urban/residential landscapes? Are the contaminants (nutrients, pharmaceuticals) associated with RW transported to surface water and groundwater? How do the contaminants present in RW affect ecosystem functions within soils and surface and groundwaters?

3) Dissolved organic matter in RW and implications for drinking water treatment (M. Lusk, A. Zimmerman, A. Reisinger): A key knowledge gap in our ability to use RW for potable supplies relates to composition of dissolved organic matter in RW and the consequent level of treatment the RW may need to bring it to potable standards, leading to the questions: What is the chemical composition and character of RW and how does that vary from traditional potable water sources? Given the expected composition of RW from various sources and locations, what treatment levels and methods will be needed for potable usage of RW?

4) RW Engineering Approaches (A. Zimmerman, B. Gao): Increasing RW application across usage types (agriculture, environment/residential landscape, drinking water) will require optimizing RW quality and quantity for each intended end use, as well as to ensure human and environmental health needs, leading to the questions: What sustainable and cost-effective biological or geological sorbent materials can be found or created that can minimize negative health or environmental impacts from various constituents in RW (salts, nutrients and pharmaceuticals, etc.)? How can these sorbents best be incorporated into newly designed infrastructure?

5) Public Perceptions of RW Uses (K. Ash, J. Jones): While scientists are investigating methods to increase the uses and safety of RW, implementation of these practices depends heavily on public perception. Understanding public perception about RW and how to influence such perception, is key to implementing best-practices, leading to the questions: What do participants’ know or believe about RW and its potential use in agriculture, aquifer recharge, landscape irrigation, and household consumption? What do participants identify as the primary benefits to using RW? What are the primary concerns identified by participants hesitant to use RW? What is the relationship between general perceptions of water quality & safety & willingness to use RW? Does education about the safety and cost-benefits of reclaimed water influence the public’s willingness to use RW?

Integrative activities - WIGF Fellows will benefits from the following activities:

1) Seminar Course, Academic Journal Club, and Biweekly cohort meetings: will provide the platform for WIGF Faculty and Fellows to develop collaborative research projects that will be integrated in interdisciplinary research proposals and will provide professional development opportunities.

2) Field trip: Students and faculty will take a road trip to visit RW production and use sites of national significance including El Paso, Texas, Maricopa Arizona, and Tucson, Arizona. Potable reuse of RW, water scarcity issues, contaminants of emerging concern, and use of RW for environmental river flows are some of the issues to be discussed and viewed firsthand.

3) Beneficial use of RW Workshop: Planned and implemented by Fellows and the Water Institute, a one-day workshop on the beneficial reuse of wastewater will invite stakeholders involved in decision making related to water use and wastewater management to discuss research findings and share opportunities.

4) Water Institute Distinguished Scholar Seminars: Fellows will have the opportunity to invite and host leading experts in reclaimed water use to visit the University of Florida, give a seminar, and discuss research interests and ideas for potential future collaborations.

5) Water Institute Symposium: Fellows will have the opportunity to develop special sessions on the beneficial use of RW and present their research findings at biennial Water Institute Symposia.

Qualifications: Applicants should have a strong demonstrated interest in water issues and either a Master’s degree in engineering, natural or social sciences, or a Bachelor’s degree plus research experience in an appropriate discipline. Persons from groups that are under-represented in science and engineering professions are encouraged to apply. Applications will be due January 2023.

The Water Institute Graduate Fellows will be advised by one or more of the following UF faculty (Detailed information on each faculty member can be found here).

  • Mary Lusk, Soil and Water Sciences
  • Kevin Ash, Geography
  • Davie Kadyampakeni, Soil and Water Sciences
  • Alexander J. Reisinger, School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Andrew R. Zimmerman, Geological Sciences

Jennifer Jones (Family, Youth, and Community Sciences) will be co-lead on researching public perceptions of RW uses and leading an evaluation on the process of interdisciplinary integration of the project, but will not be a major advisor to a WIGF Fellow. Bin Gao (Agricultural and Biological Engineering) will be collaborating on research on RW engineering approaches but will not be a major advisor to a WIGF Fellow.