Peter Huck’s team makes increasingly polluted water safer to drink.
From an early age, Peter Huck knew water would be an important part of his life. “Living across the street from the Welland River certainly piqued my interest in water and the environment,” says the University of Waterloo (UW) professor. “At the time, Welland [Ontario] was one of the only municipalities of its size in Ontario that didn’t have a wastewater treatment plant.” As a young man, Huck preferred maintenance to lifeguarding and opted to backwash filters and change chlorine cylinders at a local swimming pool.
Huck’s early exposure to water issues and his choice to investigate drinking water has produced a lifetime of valuable research. An internationally recognized and awarded water treatment expert, he has held the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Chair in Water Treatment for four five-year terms—a length of time that Rick Culham, associate dean of research and external partnerships in UW’s Faculty of Engineering, believes may be unmatched by any other researcher at the school.
In addition to conducting high-level, quality research, Culham credits Huck’s ability to build lasting partnerships as the secret of his success. “He’s done an excellent job of building a very strong team,” says Culham, who refers to not only research colleagues but also municipal partners— many of whom have continued to support the Chair over its lifetime.
Municipalities are at the core of Huck’s research. Called upon to participate on an expert panel during Part I of the Walkerton Inquiry, he is well known for his expertise in municipal utilities. Currently, his team is partnered with a number of municipalities looking at several areas, including methods to treat for trace contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupters; the use of membranes and ways to reduce their fouling; and improved methods of analyzing for pathogenic organisms.
Additionally, Huck’s team is responsible for training the next generation of specialists in new treatment technologies. Teaching, he says, is a great opportunity. “Students have a passion to learn and a curiosity that I find quite stimulating,” he says.
As he nears the end of his fourth term with NSERC, Huck is game for a fifth. “The ultimate goal is to try to make the drinking water supply as safe and reliable as possible for people, and to allow it to be robust,” he says. “In general, we take for granted the provision of a safe and adequate water supply on this continent. It’s one of the key underpinnings of our society; we have to keep working to ensure that it’s safe and reliable.” — Kerry Freek