Healthy Urban Waters Initiative

Healthy Urban Waters (HUW) is a program at Wayne State University that promotes and delivers research, education, technology development and public engagement on water resources in the urban environment.  Our focus area is the Huron to Erie corridor, although our expertise and application extends throughout the Great Lakes watershed.  Our mission is to engage and empower the public in creating a sustainable urban environment based on sound science.

Wayne State University (WSU) is a leader in community-based water research, science and education, and HUW builds upon that experience by engaging WSU faculty and students in collaborative projects with partner academic institutions, government agencies, community groups and industry in the United States and Canada.  The focus of these projects is on addressing the challenges of environmental degradation due to human activities, such as polluted stormwater runoff, airborne deposition and industrial wastewater.  Finding solutions to complex environmental problems requires collaboration between academics and practitioners across disciplines and across socio-political and institutional boundaries.  HUW provides both a forum for this collaborative work and an opportunity for innovations to become integrated into decision-making processes and institutional practices.

Field research and training

The broad impacts of our work result from the individual strengths of our collaborators and their connections to the organizations and communities they represent.  For example, HUW maintains field research facilities known as the Huron to Erie Alliance for Research and Training (HEART) Field Stations in partnership with public agencies and non-profit organizations.  These facilities provide hands-on training, education and research experiences with urban water resources.  Located in the Lake Huron-to-Lake Erie corridor, the field stations include Detroit's Belle Isle, Macomb County's Lake St. Clair Metropark, and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Water Works Park Treatment Plant. Projects at the field stations have evaluated the effectiveness of drinking water treatment systems for removing contaminants of emerging concern, developed new molecular techniques for evaluating fisheries habitat restoration effectiveness, and pioneered innovative methods for assuring safe water quality for swimmers.  HUW collaborates also with six other drinking water plants along the Huron-to-Erie corridor and maintains a data platform for public access to water quality information collected from these intakes.  Related outreach and integrated education activities result in knowledge transfer to faculty, students and the general public.

By working together to share ideas, conduct scientific research and develop new approaches to environmental problems, Healthy Urban Waters advances public understanding of urban water issues.  Through this work we hope to achieve our vision for a sustainable urban environment.

Spring 2017 investigators awards

Congratulations to our Healthy Urban Waters Investigator Award winners!  

Improving Urban Water Monitoring Through Citizen Science

PI: Donna Kashian

Associate Professor, Biological Sciences




Management of many urban rivers throughout North America and Europe benefit from volunteer monitoring programs, or citizen science, to monitor water quality. Despite these efforts (particularly in the Great Lakes) and their utility for management decision, volunteer data remains under-utilized in traditional research and state management agencies. In part, this is due to a lack of truck among researchers about the quality and reliability of data. This project aims to provide an explicit comparison between academic and volunteer site assessments. In addition, water quality will be independently assessed through a suite of standard water quality parameters.

Microbial Contamination of Beaches in Huron to Erie Corridor: Investigating Dynamics and Potential Sources

PI: Dr. Jeffrey Ram, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Physiology, School of Medicine



This project aims to further the understanding of E.coli levels in the Detroit River and further the capabilities of measuring E.coli. Water will be sampled at the Belle Isle beach and Sand Point beach in order to monitor E.coli levels. E.coli will also be analyzed through NextGen sequencing in order to compare levels and other community dynamics. Following this, sequencing data will be used to develop PCR primers and probes for 25 high risk harmful micro-organisms and optimize for use as a quick scan tool for microbial risk in recreational waters. Developing and applying sequencing methods have a great potential for risk assessment and management related to microbial contamination by providing rapid and accurate identification of the microbial community and identifying probable sources of such contamination. This project is a collaboration between two international laboratories located in the USA and Canada.

Summer 2016 investigators awards

Investigating occurrence and effects of endocrine disruption due to environmental contaminants in Detroit waterbodies

PI: Tracie Baker, DVM, PhD

Assistant Professor, Institute of Environmental Health Sciences



Scientific and public concern is growing in response to ongoing reports of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in waterways due to their potential effects on wildlife and human health. These EDCs include pharmaceutical, personal care, agricultural, and industrial byproducts that enter the waterways via purposeful dumping, runoff, and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Pharmaceuticals and personal care products enter the environment because WWTPs are not specifically designed to remove these types of chemicals. Studies have shown that EDCs can have a profound effect on development, reproduction, and the immune system. My previous research, using zebrafish as a model, has shown reproductive abnormalities and a consistent change in sex ratio favoring females following exposure to low levels of an EDC during juvenile development that persisted in subsequent generations. The overall project goals are to 1) determine the occurrence of known EDCs in Detroit waterbodies and 2) assess whether chronic exposure to this EDC mixture can affect sexual development and immune function. Implications of this study will include identifying etiologies of environmentally-induced disease in humans and anthropogenic pressures on reproductive capacity of wild fish populations.

A Pilot Study to Evaluate the Viability of Real-time Source Water Early Warning System for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

PI: Dr. Judy Westrick, Ph.D.

Director, Lumigen Instrument Center



This pilot will evaluate the efficiency and sustainability of two online VOC (volatile organic compound) monitoring systems for use by drinking water treatment plants. The long term goal is to create an effective, robust, and affordable real-time drinking water protection network using online VOC monitoring. This six month pilot includes the setting up of the VOC monitoring system in two locations (the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) Water Works Park Pilot Plant and the Marysville Drinking Water Treatment Plant), training operators, and summarizing the service and economic logistics of the two piloted monitoring systems. This pilot study is designed to address problems identified during the original span of the Huron to Erie Real-time Drinking Water Protection Network (HE-Network), a real-time drinking water quality monitoring network that operated in the corridor from 2006-2009 and provided early detection data for contamination from chemical spills and other public health threats. The pilot study will address: 1) resolving the "high" maintenance of the original system; 2) establishment of network governance; 3) security of funds for continued operation.

Internal Funding Opportunities->

Healthy Urban Waters

Urban Watershed Environmental Research Group (UWERG)

5050 Anthony Wayne Dr.  |  Detroit, MI 48201

313-577-3870  |