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Taking Control of Storm Water

6 January 2005

Taking Control of Storm Water

Auckland's wet summer hasn't put American Elizabeth Fassman off the city, after all rain gives her a job.

Dr Fassman, a lecturer in environmental engineering at The University of Auckland's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has moved to Auckland to help develop New Zealand's programme in storm water control.

"There's a huge need for people coming out of university with storm water skills. There are two important aspects of the work - caring for water quality and dealing with flooding.

"In New Zealand there have been two significant floods in the past year, and each year there are water quality issues in Auckland's harbours. Engineers skilled in the area of storm water quality management can help control these problems," she says.

Dr Fassman completed her Masters and PhD in storm water management at the University of Virginia in the US before working for a water resources engineering firm in Denver.

"Storm water quality management is a relatively new science and there's still a lot to be developed. However, it is rapidly becoming a more prominent field in engineering and there is a huge shortage of storm water engineers around the world," she says.

Along with developing courses for students, Dr Fassman plans to undertake research in conjunction with regional and territorial authorities looking into storm water quality issues.

"The people I've met in the industry are excited that the University is doing this because they recognise the major skills shortage in New Zealand and the need for more research to take place."

Her work will include field-based research looking at storm water treatment devices and management at the catchment scale, as well as analysing the possibilities of a new management approach called low-impact development - which takes advantage of the natural setting to reduce stormwater runoff impacts from development in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Dr Fassman says infrastructure development is on the increase around the world as the population grows, and this creates challenges with how to supply clean water to homes and how to stop lakes, streams and harbours from becoming polluted.

After living in Japan with her family as a teenager, and travelling around Asia, Dr Fassman decided to become a civil engineer.

"We visited some under-developed countries that didn't have modern sewer systems or clean running water and I realised that as an engineer I could help improve the health and wellbeing of people.

"Being a teenager I wanted to save the world. I'm much more realistic now, but still believe I can do my bit to keep the environment clean by being an engineer," she says.


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