New Waves October 2007

Breaking news about water resources research and education in Texas

TWRI grant recipient studies the cultural aspects of water quality in Austin

By Kari Miller

The University of Texas graduate student Andrew Karvonen is working with his advising professor Dr. Steven Moore from the School of Architecture to study the historic and current meaning of water to different social groups in Austin, Texas.

Karvonen, originally from Minnesota and a recipient of a $5,000 2006-2007 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) research grant, said that he is performing case study research to understand the political and cultural aspects of urban water quality.

"A guiding concept of my research is that urbanization is not the end of nature but rather a renegotiation between humans, nature and technology," he said.

According to his final report, highly contentious political debates have revolved around water quality in Austin since the 1970s. These debates demonstrate the intertwining of nature, society and technology in modern societies and the challenges that communities face in appropriating new conceptions of environmental quality. Engagement in practices such as urban creek restoration, trail building and more environmentally benign forms of landscaping are potential pathways to further pursue water quality in the Austin culture.

"Hopefully, my research can be used by planners and engineers to plan new infrastructure networks that balance the needs of the multiple actors who use these systems," Karvonen said. "I hope that my study highlights the importance of urban nature and encourages urban residents to reflect on the natural elements that are an important part of their cities."

Karvonen said he hopes to complete his doctorate and then obtain a teaching and research position in a university setting where he can continue to explore how nature, technology and society interact in urban settings.

His research was funded by TWRI with funds obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

For more information on Karvonen’s research, visit USGS Research Grants.

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