Our Heroes: Michael E. ''Aquadoc'' Campana

Dr. Michael E. Campana

Michael E. “Aquadoc” Campana’s story is a testament to the fact that at times something can be found unexpectedly—like a career in hydrogeology. On the other hand, unless actively looking for something, a person is not likely to find it—like a plethora of devoted and talented hydrophilanthropists.

And that is just some of the wisdom Campana has gleaned along the way to becoming a Professor of Geosciences at Oregon State University, the president of a professional water resources association and a prolific blogger at his two blogs, WaterWired and Campanastan. Join the conversation as he describes how he combined his knowledge of hydrology and desire to “help people help themselves” to create a foundation which teaches, supports and engages impoverished communities in Central America to bring clean freshwater and sanitation to their locales.

I recently gave Dr. Campana a call via Skype to talk water. Below, a taste (or sip, if you will) of our chat.  Download a podcast of the full conversation or the full transcript.


So as you're traveling the world, particularly Latin America and Central America, you must see a lot of different situations where high-quality fresh water isn’t available, readily, or there needs to be treatment, etc. So from your perspective, do you think people are prepared to face the fresh water crisis? Some people say the fresh water crisis, regardless of where they are, or whatever their circumstances, do you think that’s really starting to hit people or is it just becoming more apparent?

[…] Let me mention something. I used to laugh at the expression, just as I said, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” When I was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, people would say, “Wow, you gotta think globally, but act locally.” And they still say that. And I would look at that and I would think, “Oh geeze, that’s kind of a cop-out or something. But actually that’s one of my mantras today, is “Think globally and act locally.” So when people say, “Well, my gosh, the world water crisis, I just can’t do anything about it, I'm just so frustrated.” But what you have to realize is that the global crisis is made up of many, many thousands of little crises. And so when I'm working in a little village that’s say 300 people, how is that going to make a dent in the one billion people who don’t have access to clean water? Well, when I'm working with them that’s not my concern, my concern is getting clean water to those 300 people and then I'll move on to the next group of 300 or 400 people. So that’s the only way I can get my arms around the global water crisis, or one of the ways. Or the way that I can actually do something to try to ameliorate the world water crisis. So that’s how I look at it, because otherwise, it’s too easy then to get frustrated and say, “Well, I can’t help it, so I'm not going to do anything.” […]

But I mean what’s interesting is that [WaterWired] is a very informative edifying read, but at the same time it’s entertaining. And it’s tough to walk that tightrope, so that’s definitely something that you do that’s impressive and it’s one thing to just write about dry subjects, but it’s another make it something that people want to go to and read.

Thanks for saying that and that’s what I like to emphasize or I pride myself on that I try to make it understandable, try not to get too bogged down in ultra-technical things, although sometimes I have to do that. But I want to make it understandable, and to me, and I'm sure you'll probably agree, is that over the years we scientists and engineers, and technical people have not done a real good job at educating the public and the politicians and the policy and decision makers, all those kinds of folks. I think the reason is that we're afraid of, “Oh gosh, I have to dumb it down to make these people understand, and I don’t want to do that and I don’t want to be pinned down on something because then it will come back to haunt me, etc." And I see the scientific community, or let me just say the technical or professional community getting more interested in doing outreach, whether it’s a blog or a Tweet, or whether it’s giving a presentation before a local civic group, or the local say, farmer’s in a region, go to the grange or something and give a talk. And I think that’s great. […]

Michael E. “Aquadoc” Camapana’s list of Notable Hydrophilanthropists

  • Dr. Stephen Silliman: Department of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences, University of Notre Dame
  • Dr. David A. Sabatini; Dr. Robert C. Knox; Dr. Randall L. Kolar; Dr. Robert W. Nairn: Water Center at University of Oklahoma
  • Dr. David Kreamer (originator of the term “hydrophilanthropy” [PDF]): Department of Geoscience, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Dr. Jim Thomas and Doctoral candidate Alan McKay: Desert Research Institute, Hydrological Sciences Program, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Dr. Michael "Aquadoc" Campana, Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University: The Ann Campana Judge Foundation