Published: June 9, 2022 By
Karl Linden

Karl Linden has landed a major fellowship to research solutions to water pollution in rural and First Nations communities in Canada.

Linden, the Mortenson Professor in Sustainable Development in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been selected as a 2022 Fulbright Scholar.

The prestigious U.S. State Department program offers scholars the chance to teach and conduct research around the world to expand American partnerships and share knowledge. Linden will spend the fall 2022 semester at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a particular focus on water quality issues in Canadian First Nations Communities.

“The solutions engineers typically bring to small communities haven’t been working,” Linden said. “We have these intractable problems of water quality and treatment. We aren’t making the improvements in public health you’d expect to see. Somehow we’re missing something.”

Many First Nations communities in Canada are small and in remote areas, and some do not have safe running water or conventional sanitation.

“I want to help transform how we do engineering by incorporating more diverse solutions,” Linden said. “If we can build on engineering fundamentals but listen to and incorporate indigenous knowledge and values including the centuries of resilience embedded in these communities, we may find a whole new solution set of ideas and designs. It has to start with listening, rather than coming in with pre-conceived answers, which is how we engineers commonly approach problems. I am looking forward to taking the time to meet with communities and understand what kind of problems they want to solve, and then see what it takes to co-create solutions that work in the geographies and with the diverse cultures represented.”

Linden has focused his career on water quality and treatment efforts. He has made major contributions to the advancement of ultraviolet light systems for disinfection, which are now used by many municipal water systems.

“I’ve been working on UV solutions for decades, and it’s really exciting to see your research move into everyday use,” Linden said. “UV technology is now used for everything from single households up to disinfection for New York City, which has the largest water system in the world.”

A particular focus for Linden in Canada will be water quality issues due to algal blooms and heavy metals like mercury and arsenic from industrial mine tailings. These are topics in which his collaborators at St. Mary’s University have regional expertise.

“These metals and algal toxins impact the natural water quality, and the downstream users of these watersheds, including First Nations communities, are bearing the burden of this pollution, which needs to be treated to create safe and potable water,” Linden said.

He hopes to help communities improve their water quality and to broaden his own perspective through the fellowship.

“It’s a short time, just a few months, but I want to meet with community partners, local water utilities, and shadow researchers,” Linden said. “There are a lot of overlaps with water issues we have in rural areas of Colorado and in Native American communities in the southwest, and this is a chance to broaden my perspectives and bring ideas back to Boulder as well.”