University of Vermont

Engineering

Water Is Focus of UVM’s Fifth Legislative Summit

Raju Badireddy (right), assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Water Treatment & Environmental Nanotechnology Lab at the University of Vermont, discusses groundwater contamination with legislators at UVM’s fifth Legislative Summit. This year’s event took the form of a “slam.” After a brief presentation, faculty took questions from legislators for an extended period in a roundtable format. (Photo: Sally McCay)

There was no golden dome on the top of the Davis Center, but the fourth floor of the UVM’s student center bore more than a passing resemblance to the Vermont State House on Monday morning. 

Nearly 50 state legislators took up residence there from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on hand for UVM’s fifth annual Legislative Summit.

After addressing education, climate change, the Vermont economy and healthcare policy in past years, the summit’s topic this year was “Water: How Will We Ensure That It Is Clean and Plentiful.” The summit was divided into three sub-areas: groundwater contamination, causes and consequences of algal bloom and Lake Champlain as sentinel.

UVM faculty in disciplines ranging from natural resources, geology and public administration to agriculture and civil and environmental engineering shared with legislators the key takeaways from their research programs, with the idea that the information would help them do their jobs.

“The goal of this year’s Legislative Summit is to maximize the exchange of information between scientists at the University of Vermont who study various aspects of water and legislators from Montpelier, who have to make policy about these very issues,” said Richard Galbraith, UVM’s vice president for research, who was on hand for the event. 

The nature of Vermont’s citizen legislature makes this kind of exchange important, said Chris Bray ('77, G'91), chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and a former member of the UVM Board of Trustees.   

“One of the glories of Vermont is the citizen legislature,” he said. “I love the legislature, but I also realize that we don’t have the expertise for a lot of very complicated things that come our way. I’m always up for opportunities to help us educate ourselves, and I think that’s where an event like the summit can really help,” he said.

Faculty participants were glad to be of service.  

Mindy Morales-Williams, an assistant professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, whose work focuses on the relationship between blue-green algae blooms and carbon cycles, said the event capsulizes why she does research.

“It’s so important for us to communicate our science and get our science out there,” she said. “Often we are in a bubble, and we just go about our business doing our science. But without communicating it and influencing legislation and policy, there’s no point in doing it.”

Bray hopes that the summit can lead to even more collaboration in the future.

“I’d like to turn this into an ongoing dialogue, where UVM faculty can participate in a less academic way than they’re accustomed to but still contribute to the work of the state,” he said. “They could be providing testimony or consulting with individual legislators.”

This year’s event was organized as a “slam.” Faculty presenters in each of the topic areas had four minutes to give a quick overview of their research, then repaired to one of several round tables. Legislators could then have a more extended Q&A with the faculty member of their choice.  

“Instead of having long presentations and a relatively small amount of discussion, we changed it to short presentations with a large amount of discussion to increase the interaction between the two groups,” Galbraith said.

Judging from the animated discussions that were taking place at the tables throughout the course of the morning, 

According to Representative Anne O'Brien, who also attended the summit, the change was a constructive one. "From all accounts, the summit this year was a smashing success," said O'Brien, a member of UVM's board who played an instrumental role in launching the summits six years ago. "The slam format was particularly well received, since it allowed for a dialogue between the researchers and policy makers and set the stage for continuing to build stronger relationships between the legislature and UVM faculty."

Faculty participating in the Legislative Summit included George Pinder, Eric
 Roy and Raju Badireddy (groundwater contamination); Breck Bowden, Chuck Ross and Chris Koliba (causes and consequences of algal bloom);  and Ellen Marsden, Mindy Morales-Williams, and Andrew Schroth (Lake Champlain as sentinel).