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Untapped potential: Leveraging water markets

As part of his certificate in Water: Systems, Science and Society, Ken Nugent MSEM ’17, helped organize a cross-disciplinary symposium on the potential of water markets.

As part of his certificate in Water: Systems, Science and Society, Ken Nugent MSEM ’17, helped organize a cross-disciplinary symposium on the potential of water markets.

Ken Nugent, MSEM ’17, believes that solving some of the most pressing water issues facing our society – scarcity, pollution, and drought – requires an interdisciplinary approach.

Ken will be graduating this May with his M.S. in Engineering Management (MSEM) from the Gordon Institute. He also completed a graduate certificate in Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS), which provides interdisciplinary perspectives and tools needed to manage water-related problems around the world.

As part of the certificate program, Ken helped organize an all-day symposium at Tufts on April 21, ‘Untapped Potential: Making Water Markets Work for All,’ which was co-sponsored by the Gordon Institute. The annual conference brought together experts and practitioners to explore how water quality and quantity markets can help address modern water challenges.

Students in the WSSS program, which come from departments across the university, presented research at the conference on topics ranging from public health to climate science. The conference’s interdisciplinary nature was by design. Ken built on skills gained from the MSEM curriculum to approach water issues from an engineering management perspective.

“For engineers, having an understanding of what’s socially important, and being able to work with topics like public health, is important,” Ken says. “There are many different stakeholders that as an engineer you might not consider. Encouraging more people to come to the table and encouraging cross-disciplinary outreach is only going to improve the finished project.”

Organizers of the conference decided on the topic because of the potential of water markets for uniting urban and rural stakeholders for a variety of water-based issues. Speakers throughout the day explained that in some regions, water markets have been successful in mitigating nutrient pollution, preserving habitat, and maintaining sufficient flow. However, there are also challenges: Thin supply or demand, regulatory uncertainty, and lack of a driving force.

“Awareness about water markets is rising,” Ken says of the topic. “The idea is expanding as water scarcity and droughts become more a part of the social consciousness.”

Participants at the conference had the opportunity to engage in a hands-on exercise to mimic the experience of buying and selling in water markets.

“You have to be able to trade at a price where people are coming into an exchange voluntarily and they feel like they aren’t being scammed,” Ken says, explaining the purpose of the exercise. “Encouraging that requires a lot of awareness about what the market can bear – so it’s an economic argument as well as an environmental one.”

As of 2013, there were 98 water markets across the U.S. The conference’s keynote speaker, Ellen Gilinsky, the Former Associate Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), focused her comments on the environment of regulatory uncertainty in the present political moment.

“My thought has always been that uncertainty is an opportunity,” Ken says about Gilinsky’s perspective. “It comes with a lot of risks - there isn’t a set guidebook as to what to do next. It creates a lot of opportunities for an entrepreneur to propose a solution and see if there is a business opportunity.”

Ken currently works at Weston & Sampson, an environmental engineering firm that manages water and wastewater treatment projects, where he works closely with state regulators, the EPA, and other stakeholders to make sure these systems run properly. The combination of the MSEM degree, which focuses on leadership, management, and business strategy, with the WSSS certificate was a natural fit for him.

“I’ve slowly been able to tie this background into what I do,” he says about studying engineering management at Tufts. “That was one of the selling points of the Gordon Institute for me – It was great to use this WSSS certificate program to have something concrete to take away and have more of a narrative to my professional and academic trajectory.”

As part of the WSSS certificate, Ken has worked on a practicum project with Scott Horsley, a faculty member in the department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, for the Cape Cod Commission looking at issues surrounding nutrient removal. They hope to make certain social and behavioral recommendations to regulatory agencies to help them address the problem more seriously.

“The project incorporates both the engineering aspect, where you’re measuring everything, as well as the management aspect, where you’re trying to market or influence behavior,” Ken says about skills gained during the MSEM program.

Ken says that although balancing the demands of a full-time job with the MSEM program and the certificate was challenging, it has been extremely rewarding for his future career.

“I’ve always been passionate about the ability to identify environmental issues where there are real opportunities to effect social change,” Ken says about his future plans. “That’s something I hope to one day address – I see a real economic opportunity to do so.”