From Singapore to Baltimore: An Intern Looks at Water Quality

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[Note: Yuan Hao Wong, author of this guest post, is interning with Blue Water Baltimore this summer.  Here is his story.] 

Hi everyone! I am Yuan Hao Wong an undergraduate majoring in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. I am elated to be interning at Blue Water Baltimore for the next two months with my school’s Community Impact Internship Program.

This program is a paid summer internship program that pairs undergraduate Johns Hopkins students with non-profit organizations to work on community issues. When I applied to the program, I expressed a strong interest in working on water quality issues. To be paired with Blue Water Baltimore was the piece of news that kept me afloat throughout my final exam period.

Coming from the small, water-scarce country of Singapore has imbibed me with a keen interest in water issues.

Admittedly, my first encounter with water issues takes on a more technical character. Last year, I interned at a water utility where I learned about water infrastructure (e.g. reclamation and distribution facilities).

Also, my engineering classes taught me about creating sensors and instruments. These are skills I hope will be useful in allowing me to create reliable instruments that can be used to optimize water networks.

Perhaps I was suffering from an engineering-overdose, because during these few years in college I began to realize that water takes on a much more “human” nature in our communities. It is human interactions with water that determines its value and this realization made me want to explore community-based approaches to water issues.

 

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When I first came to Baltimore, I likened its water infrastructure to an aging cardiovascular system. In the heart of this city’s water system are the pump houses and treatment facilities, which are connected to a network of peripheral pipes that distribute and reclaim water (both storm and sewage).

Although I am sure that the city’s water infrastructure has seen better days, I have experienced in these short two years how the whole system is great need of repair. It is almost as if the veins of the city are suffering from frequent bouts of thrombosis; clogging up and bursting under pressure every once in a while.

The community and residents of this city bear the brunt of disruptions. Personally, I experience water shut-offs once every two months and I am confident that such instances are prevalent across the city. Despite all the frustrations, I would consider the overflowing sewers, polluted streams and rivers as a battling call for members of the community to band together as the valves of this city.

We do what we can to keep the lifelines of the city flowing and having just been through my first week of work at Blue Water Baltimore, I feel inspired to see so many volunteers stepping up to do their part.

Over the course of my two months as an intern at Blue Water Baltimore, I’ll be working on projects and assignments that will take me all over Baltimore. I will be joining the water quality team on their tidal and non-tidal samplings to monitor historically contaminated sites for water quality indicators, pollution and illegal dumping. I will be assisting volunteer events including Adopt-a-Stream training, Canoe and Scoop as well as stream clean-ups. I am also excited to be part of the tree-planting team, where I will assist in conducting tree sampling to monitor mortality rate and suggest remediation actions.

With all of these awesome activities lined up I suppose it’ll also be a great opportunity to explore Baltimore and as such I’ve decided to bike to all of these different locations (when possible). So if you see someone toiling up the slopes and getting all sweaty…that’s me!