Water Policy Scholars

The Water Policy Scholars program brings policy researchers across the UW System together with freshwater scientists to frame policy questions and adapt tools to address water resource issues. The program is intended to increase the Center for Water Policy’s capacity to develop interdisciplinary and sustainable solutions to freshwater problems.

We open an annual Request for Proposals from faculty in mid January and determine awards in April.


Current Scholars

Laura Suppes
2022-23 Water Policy Scholar
Associate Professor, Public Health and Environmental Studies University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Steering Committee, UW Water Policy Network

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are persistent, harmful, emerging contaminants present in Wisconsin ground water used for human consumption. When ingested, PFAS are associated with adverse health effects.  Dr. Suppes’ Water Policy Scholar project, Model development for Assessing Illness Risk from PFAS Ingestion Exposures in Wisconsin, can help inform policy making around this emerging contaminant in water quality safety and public health. Water quality safety and emerging contaminants is one of the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin’s ten grand challenges.

Dr. Suppes’ research aims to assess the risk of adverse health outcomes from PFAS exposure in Eau Claire, WI residents. Eau Claire has over 68,000 residents who rely on ground water as the source of municipal drinking water. PFAS were discovered in four of Eau Claire’s 16 municipal water wells during summer of 2021. Although Eau Claire’s water utility has stopped using the contaminated wells, residents consuming municipal drinking water prior to 2021 were exposed to PFAS.

Exposure data unique to the Eau Claire community, like average water ingestion volumes, will be collected and analyzed. Results will be shared with the Eau Claire City-County Health department for use in public health messaging about PFAS exposure and illness risk, if any. The developed risk assessment model will be accessible to the Water Policy Network for use and dissemination. In the model, exposure inputs can be customized to assess illness probabilities in other areas of Wisconsin where PFAS have emerged as a drinking water contaminant. Community leaders, researchers or decision makers can use the model to assess illness probabilities unique to Wisconsin communities, helping guide policy decisions.

Laura M. Suppes, PhD, MPH, REHS, is an Associate Professor in Public Health and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. She received her MPH in Public Health Administration and Policy from the University of Minnesota and PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Arizona. Her research interests are chemical and biological hazard identification and remediation in water, exposure assessment, and quantitative microbiological risk assessment. Her most recent research focuses on surveying indicators of nitrate contamination in private well water and assessing the impact of cyanuric acid on risk of gastrointestinal illness among swimmers.

Past Scholars

Timothy Ehlinger
2021-22 Water Policy Scholar
Associate Professor and William Collins Kohler Chair in Systems Change and Peacebuilding, UWM College of Nursing

With competing demands on water resources interacting with climate stress and political polarization, the need for developing agile governance frameworks that can identify feedbacks and engage communities in ecosystem stewardship is great. Dr. Ehlinger’s Water Policy Scholar project examine the efficacy of participatory systems mapping with stakeholders as a tool for transforming conflict and building deliberative legitimacy. The work was conducted in partnership with the Lake Beulah Protection and Improvement Association and Lake Beulah Management District and  expanded participation in local decision-making and worked to build trust between conflicting parties while maintaining legitimacy with local and state authorities such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Margaret Noodin
2019-20 Water Policy Scholar

Professor, UWM English & American Studies
Director, Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education

Watch our World Water Day 2021 Celebration event featuring Dr. Noodin’s work as a Water Policy Scholar, March 17, 2021.

As the 2019-2020 Water Policy Scholar, Professor Noodin led the Mapping Indigenous Connections project, which provides a visual guide to the many Native American nations that are part of the Anishinaabe Confederacy. The Mapping project focuses on more than 140 Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations. Linked by the Anishinaabemowin language, these communities are located around the western Great Lakes.  Noodin is interested in finding an approach that integrates the Nations’ valuable perspective around ecosystem resilience in the Basin in the face of economic and climates shifts. Her work helps raise not only a deeper understanding of the Nations, but also could inform important policy issues.

Ryan Holifield
2018-19 Water Policy Scholar
Associate Professor, UWM Geography

Ryan Holifield is an associate professor in the UWM Department of Geography and Urban Studies Programs. His research focuses on issues of environmental justice and democratic participation in environmental policy and governance, especially in urban contexts. One current collaborative project investigates geographic dimensions of stakeholder participation in remedial action plans at Great Lakes Areas of Concern: toxic hotspots of contamination and environmental degradation.
The objectives of his participation in the Water Policy Scholars program was to complete the collaborative project on participation in Great Lakes Areas of Concern and to develop new potential collaborations that could build on this research, take it into new directions, and expand its scope.

James Wasley
2017-18 Water Policy Scholar
Professor, UWM Architecture

James Wasley is a Professor in the UWM Architecture Department and is the current Director of the Institute for Ecological Design. His research focuses on designing and implementing ecological urban waterscapes.

As a Policy Scholar, Wasley facilitated a design workshop entitled Innovative Practice/Innovative Policy: Setting an Agenda for Advancing Integrative Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes Basin that drew several nationally-renowned design professionals to Milwaukee in April 2017. Wasley also used his time as a Policy Scholar to develop funding proposals for green infrastructure projects with several Freshwater Sciences collaborators.

Paul Roebber
2016-17 Water Policy Scholar

Distinguished Professor, UWM Mathematics

Paul Roebber is a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences in the UWM Mathematics Department and director of the non-profit Innovative Weather program. He is currently doing research on flash flooding, Great Lakes temperatures and water levels, and application of adaptive learning techniques to forecasting thunderstorms.

Through the Policy Scholars program, Dr. Roebber developed a statistical model that provides insight into the variability of water levels in Lakes Michigan and Superior in the coming decades. This information can help decision makers develop climate-resilient policy regarding coastal development and erosion, energy production, water treatment, and many other social and economic factors linked to fluctuating lake levels.

Scott Graham
2016-17 Water Policy Scholar

Associate Professor, English, University of Texas at Austin

Scott Graham is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He researches how scientific experts and public stakeholders communicate about matters of risk and uncertainty as part of science-policy deliberation. His current projects involve investigating the influence of public advocacy groups on regulatory decision-making and analyzing the FDA’s environmental review of the most popular pharmaceuticals products.

As a Policy Scholar, Dr. Graham focused on building the Public Engagement and Science Communication (PESC) lab, which sought to provide an interdisciplinary approach to science communication research, communications education, and stakeholder outreach, with particular attention to water science and policy.