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The WaTER Center was founded in 2006 to meet a growing need for university-based programs in the area of international water supply and sanitation.

David A. Sabatini, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, David Ross Boyd Professor in Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, became the first director of the center. Sabatini's expertise is in the area of physio-chemical processes for water and wastewater treatment. He was initially joined by two associate directors, Keith A. Strevett, Ph.D.(biological water and wastewater treatment) and Randall L. Kolar, Ph.D., P.E. (surface and groundwater supply). Together they began to partner with faculty from CEES and across campus to become a national center of excellence.

Later, Robert C. Knox, Ph.D., P.E. (groundwater hydrology), Robert W. Nairn, Ph.D. (passive treatment with ecosystems), and Yang Hong, Ph.D. (water resources/climate change) joined the leadership team while Strevett stepped off. More recently, Jim Chamberlain(education/outreach and systems assessment/ optimization) and Robert Dreibelbis (public health, water and sanitation) joined the partnership.

The WaTER Center also works with an interdisciplinary team of faculty members from anthropology, business, education, geography, and public health that is committed to working together to address the global water and sanitation problem.

WaTER Center personnel have received several awards.

Dr. Robert Nairn received the Richard I. and Lela M. Barnhisel Reclamation Researcher of the Year Award from the American Society of Mining and Reclamation for his work in Tar Creek, Oklahoma and Potosi, Bolivia. This award is intended for individuals demonstrating substantive contributions to the advancement of reclamation science and/or technology through scientific research. This award is especially meaningful because he was nominated by his students and it was voted on by Dr. Nairn’s peers in American Society of Mining and Reclamation. In 2012, Dr. Nairn received the University of Oklahoma Research Impact award.

Dr. David Sabatini was named a 2010 DaVinci Institute Fellow and received the 2011 Water Environment Federation Award of Merit With Distinction for Work in Developing Countries.  The Water Environment Federation Pioneer Award for Disinfection is awarded to an engineer or scientist for their pioneering work in the area of disinfection.  Professor Sabatini received this award for his work in establishing the OU WaTER Center and his pioneering research in removing fluoride from drinking waters in developing countries. Skeletal fluorosis is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride, and is endemic in over 25 countries.  It has been estimated that 200 million suffer from skeletal and dental fluorosis worldwide. Dr. Sabatini’s alma mater recognized his significant contributions by awarding him the University of Illinois Outstanding Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumnus award in 2012.

Student researchers associated with the WaTER Center have also received numerous awards, both on campus and nationally. The most prominent of the student awards are the NSF Graduate Fellowships received by Ms. Laura Brunson (2009), Mr. Chris Cope (2010) and Ms. Gina Hodges (2011), plus two NASA Graduate Fellowship awardees Mr. Zac Flamig (2010) and Dr. Sadiq Khan (2009). Ms. Brunson also recently received a Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency.