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Emerging Environmental Challenges - Freshwater Salinization

Urban water systems face many emerging environmental challenges. One of these challenges is freshwater salinization. Freshwater salinization poses a direct threat to critical freshwater ecosystems, agricultural productivity, drinking water supplies, and our existing network of infrastructure (including green stormwater infrastructure). It also undermines many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Origins of freshwater salinization include the application of deicers and anti-icers to roads and parking lots in northern climates, salt laden discharges from sewage treatment plants, mining and energy extraction operations, and agricultural return flows, to name a few. In many countries, including the United States, existing water quality regulations are not well suited to manage the freshwater salinization, in part because of the ion-specific, site-specific and ecosystem-specific nature of the problem. 

My present work in this area has two focuses: 1) Characterizing the impact of freshwater salinization on engineered ecosystems, focusing on its implications for performance, resilience, and the capacity of green infrastructure to self-repair through phytoremediation, and 2) Use of fuzzy cognitive maps (see image below) to characterize stakeholder understanding of freshwater salinization, including key knowledge concepts, how concepts are linked together into complex networks, and what this collectively reveals about barriers and opportunities for stakeholder driven, bottom-up management of this environmental grand challenge


Aggregate mental model of freshwater salinization, illustrating the complex array of causes (black), consequences (teal) and potential mitigating actions (grey) involved its collective management

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