Tech prof works with ‘Ride the Wave’ initiative

HOUGHTON – The Flint water crisis is resonating all over the world as an example of how not to do certain kinds of civil engineering and the situation is getting attention at Michigan Tech University.

Dr. Martin Auer, Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator for the Ride the Waves program, said Ride the Waves began four years ago with funding from General Motors. It came about after GM representative Steven M. Tomaszewski, who is a Tech graduate, contacted the university asking what GM could do to help get children involved with water issues.

As part of the Ride the Waves program during that four-year period, Auer said about 2,500 children and adults have been taken out on Lake Superior in the Tech research vessel the Agassiz.

“It’s been a very diverse program,” he said. “We’ve served about 700 kids a year for four years.”

This year, Auer said GM provided more money than it usually does, so thought was put into how that extra money could be used.

“Flint immediately came to mind,” he said.

Because of the problems with the lead contamination of Flint water, Auer said it was decided to ask Flint-area teachers if they wanted to come up to Tech to learn about the university’s efforts at its Great Lakes Research Center and how they might be applicable to Flint’s situation.

“We decided we didn’t want to barge into Flint,” he said of the reason to bring the teachers to Tech.

The 12 Flint-area teachers who came to Tech didn’t have to pay anything to attend the four-day institute because the cost was covered by GM, Auer said.

The institute included three areas, Auer said, and they were the Flint River watershed, drinking water treatment, and wastewater treatment.

The teachers spent time at the GLRC and on the Agassiz. Besides Auer, also involved with the institute were Joan Chadde and Lloyd Wescoat of the Tech Center for Science and Environmental Outreach.

Auer said the intent of the program was to give teachers information which could be applicable to Flint’s current water situation. It’s also hoped that some of the students who have the 12 institute attendees as teachers will be inspired enough to get involved with environmental engineering.

“At Michigan Tech, we’re all about engineering, particularly environmental engineering,” he said.