AWWA Articles

AWWA Member Spotlight -- Environmental engineer’s goal: a better world through water treatment

Kerry Howe, P.E., Albuquerque, N.M.

Job title and employer: Professor, Environmental Engineering, University of New Mexico (UNM); Director, UNM’s Center for Water and the Environment; Guest Editor, AWWA Kerry HoweWater Science Potable Reuse Special Issue

Education: B.S. degree, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison; M.S. degree, Environmental Health Engineering, University of Texas, Austin; Ph.D., Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

What interests you about editing the AWWA Water Science Potable Reuse Special Issue? I’ve been conducting research on the best ways to remove trace organics from treated wastewater for potable reuse applications. Editing this special issue is an opportunity to contribute my knowledge on potable reuse to the water community and stay up-to-date on what others are doing in this area.

How and why did you get involved in the water sector? As a child, I developed a love for the outdoors while camping with the Boy Scouts. I started college with the intent of becoming a structural engineer, but an introductory class on water and wastewater treatment opened my eyes to combining my interests in the environment and engineering. The desire to make the world a better place is a strong motivator and a reason so many environmental engineers find their jobs so rewarding.

What led to your focus on water treatment, specifically membrane processes? My master’s thesis focused on air stripping to remove hydrogen sulfide to improve the finished water quality at a small water treatment plant. I then worked at CH2M-Hill (now Jacobs) and Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH, now Stantec) on conventional water and wastewater treatment projects for more than 12 years. Returning to school in 1998, I focused on advanced treatment processes. Membranes were in their infancy and seemed to be the perfect topic for a Ph.D. dissertation. My research helped improve understanding of what fouls microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes and how coagulation pretreatment can improve performance.

Kerry HoweWhy is interest increasing in water reuse? Everyone is familiar with how recycling can reduce our reliance on natural resources like aluminum and trees, but less familiar with the idea of recycling water. In southern California, water has historically been imported hundreds of miles, used once, then dumped into the Pacific Ocean after treatment. Recycling water via a potable reuse system reduces how much water must be imported, which ultimately reduces stress on our environment. It’s a natural progression in a circular economy.

How have you benefited from being an AWWA member? I joined AWWA in 1984 while a student at the University of Texas-Austin. It was an opportunity to learn what was happening in the water industry and connect my education to real-world issues. When I became a consultant, AWWA was a way to learn about research advancements and what other consultant were doing on projects. Now that I’m in academia, AWWA is my connection to the problems water utilities and consultants face.

Other contributors to your success? I’ve really benefited from having strong mentors and collaborators. The experts at MWH and my M.S. and Ph.D. advisors (Des Lawler and Mark Clark) had a big influence on my interests in water treatment. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the giants in the industry to write the textbooks MWH’s Water Treatment: Principles and Design and Principles of Water Treatment. My co-authors – Rhodes Trussell, George Tchobanoglous, Dave Hand and John Crittenden – are some of the best minds in the profession.Kerry family

Family and interests: My wonderful wife, Elaine, is an environmental engineer who works in the water industry at Trussell Technologies. Our three grown children -- Jim, Holly and Kathryn -- are spread across the country. My favorite activities include traveling and the outdoors – hiking, camping, skiing and rafting.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I enjoy touring water treatment plants and have visited many across the country. During my sabbatical in 2016-17, I visited plants in Switzerland, Australia and Canada. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in treatment practices in different countries. (Photos courtesy of Kerry Howe)