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Legacy gift will support a new stream of water warriors

Hopkins alumnus Steve Clark on the future of water safety
Posted June 14, 2017
Inspired by the university's legacy of leadership in water quality education, Steve Clark has made a commitment from his estate to the Bloomberg School of Public Health to support future water safety scholars. Inspired by the university's legacy of leadership in water quality education, Steve Clark has made a commitment from his estate to the Bloomberg School of Public Health to support future water safety scholars.

For most Americans, clean, safe drinking water is a given. Water engineer Steve Clark, SPH '79 (MHS), works to keep it that way as an intelligence and technology advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Homeland Security Research Center. Here, he discusses his passion for water safety.

How did Johns Hopkins influence the flow of your career?

"Hopkins Professor Abel Wolman was the 'godfather' of sanitary engineering. I saw him lecture a few times. Vincent Olivieri, professor of environmental health, was my lab guy, the director of my master's research. We had a conversation before he died in 1991 that helped me reconnect with Hopkins. Vinny convinced me we needed to have more people teaching water, and 25 years later I am still engaged."

Tell us about your work in water security.

"We're looking at the potential for people to contaminate or damage our water by intentional cause and determine the best ways to detect when it's happened. There are 83,000 chemicals in the world. We can't test for them all. So we're constantly using technical expertise and technological advances to ensure we keep as many out as possible. We need to be able to get to these things as quickly as we can."

How does expertise like yours trickle down to local water providers?

"We work with the U.S. Geological Survey for access to satellites that help us measure things like algae in the Chesapeake Bay and Homeland Security to develop cybersecurity plans that prevent the hacking of pumps and switches that are controlled by computers. Once we develop plans, we send out easy-to-understand guidance through all of the water associations."

As a member of the school’s Global Alumni Network Advisory Council, what skills do you see as essential for young public health professionals?

"We need people with technical expertise but also the leadership to convince others to understand why water initiatives are important, to get across those critical explanations. If you need to do something, do it now, push the button. What happened in Flint [Michigan] was because certain people didn’t understand the seriousness of lead in kids' water."

How will your scholarship support further that mission?

"I had a scholarship, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford my graduate degree without it. As fellowships from the federal government dry up, we need other ways to entice bright people to come into this field and stay committed to it."

You take water seriously. Do you ever have time to enjoy it?

"I swim as often as I can. But lately, I’ve sort of become obsessed with the chemistry of my pool."