Rethinking Re-use: Dr. Rosenberg Goldstein Educates International Audiences on Nontraditional Irrigation Sources in Agriculture

December 12, 2018

AREC Assistant Research Faculty member Dr. Rachel Elizabeth Rosenberg Goldstein has used her extensive knowledge on environmental health and water reuse to speak at conferences, fairs and classrooms alike, in an effort to reduce the nation’s agricultural water challenges that continue to increase through climate change.

Goldstein is the co-project director of the Extension team for CONSERVE (A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food and Health) a group whose mission is to facilitate the adoption of transformative on-farm treatment solutions that enable the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water on food crops. CONSERVE is a multidisciplinary collaboration consisting of bio-scientists, engineers, economists, computer scientists and others.

While there are three aspects of the organization, Research, Education, and Extension, Goldstein works with the Extension team to be the face of CONSERVE.

“The Extension team’s role is to take the research that our other teams are doing and go out to the agricultural communities and explain what CONSERVE is and why water reuse is needed,” Goldstein explained. “Exposing people to the idea that water reuse is a potential alternative for irrigation will provide them with more tools in their toolbox and help protect our freshwater sources.”

The demand for fresh water has increased and with limited supplies available, the United States is increasingly turning to recycled water to meet these needs. The current perception related to water reuse is not as positive as CONSERVE would like it to be, Goldstein said. Surveys conducted by the CONSERVE Extension team show that acceptance of water reuse programs are positively influenced by an increase in water reuse knowledge, higher levels of education and trust in technologies and experts. This is where the Extension team comes in.

On Oct. 9, Goldstein attended and presented at a Global Water Reuse, Food and Health Workshop at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The event was a joint event with the University of Maryland and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which brought together a diverse group of attendees.

“There is a lot that we can learn from our Israeli colleagues in terms of water reuse technologies and public acceptance of recycled water,” Goldstein said. “We do need to keep in mind though, that every region has its own water culture, perceptions of water reuse, and needs, and those must be taken into account.” A panel organized by Goldstein of three farmers from Delaware and Maryland spoke about water reuse, giving audience members the opportunity to hear directly from Mid-Atlantic farmers.

“I hope that people learned that there is a need to explore alternative water sources for agricultural irrigation because of increasing climate variability, including drought and changes in groundwater levels, and that our research and outreach needs to be regionally tailored,” Goldstein said of the event.

Other events that Goldstein has spoken at in recent months include the 2018 Water Research Foundation conference, an event in the Stamp Student Union to address the strategic initiative building healthy food systems, the Maryland Groundwater Symposium, the American Water Resources Association annual conference, and the family-oriented AGNR open house in Clarksville, Maryland. At the open house, Goldstein and her colleagues created a water-bead activity that showed children how water moves through the water cycle. This emphasized the idea that water is a finite resource although it moves between different areas, Goldstein explained.

“All of the water that we have today is all of the water that we will ever have, there will never be new water created,” Goldstein said. “It is important to use our water wisely, and it is our job to help find ways to do that.”