Water expert: Citizens can “save their own day”


Citizens have a critical role to play when facing serious environmental challenges says Yanna Lambrinidou.

Lambrinidou Affiliate Faculty in Science and Technology at Virginia Tech and President of Parents for Non-toxic Alternatives shared this and other insights at the Spring Water Forum, the kick-off to the final set of events in the Big Ideas, Better Cities series.

During her talk, Lambrinidou recounted her experiences as a scholar and citizen-activist who, along with colleagues at Virginia Tech, helped to increase public awareness of the policy issues surrounding the drinking water crises in Washington D.C (2001-2004) and Flint, Michigan that caused large-scale lead poisoning.

Lambrinidou talked about what she called the “systemic failures” of municipal and federal agencies that misinformed and excluded the public from conversations that directly impacted their health. She also emphasized the importance of involving communities in technical and policy decision-making, adding that informed citizens can “save their own day.”

“Traditional power structures that assume that experts know best and silence affected publics, can be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst,” says Lambrinidou, “When people start getting sick or start seeing their children wither, they’re often fully motivated and very capable of educating themselves for self-protection to the point of acquiring expertise that sometimes even surpasses that of the experts.”

In addition to Lambrinidou’s talk, the Spring Water Forum, also featured a number of sessions with McMaster and international experts on some of the most pressing water-related challenges facing cities today and explored how the latest research is helping communities develop paths to urban water security.

Speakers included Patrick Ray, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts and consultant with the World Bank who spoke about the effects of climate change on water resource planning and Bu Lam, Manager of Municipal Programs at the Canadian Water Network on the challenge of water security in cities.

The event, hosted by the McMaster Water Network, also featured McMaster water researchers, Dustin Garrick, Philomathia Professor in Water Policy and Director of the McMaster Water Network, Gail Kranztberg, Professor and Director of the Centre for Engineering and Public Policy in the W. Booth School of Engineering Practice and Sarah Dickson, Associate Professor in McMaster’s Department of Civil Engineering.

The Spring Water Forum is part of Climate Change and Environment: Navigating from Risk to Resilience (April 18-22), a week of events exploring how research can help cities respond to the threat of climate change and help build greener, more sustainable communities locally and around the world.