Cross-sector workshop seeks to accelerate wastewater surveillance in U.S.

Houston workshop focuses on resource optimization strategies and data actionability

Houston Cross-Sector Workshop Group Photo

Houston Wastewater Epidemiology, a CDC National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) Center of Excellence that involves an interdisciplinary collaboration of experts from Rice University, the Houston Health Department, and Houston Public Works, co-hosted a Cross-Sector Wastewater Surveillance Workshop with the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

WEF is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of more than 30,000 individual members and 75 affiliated member associations representing water quality professionals worldwide. 

The Houston workshop, held Tuesday, May 21, at Rice’s new Ralph S. O'Connor Building for Engineering and Science, focused on Resource Optimization Strategies and Data Actionability. The workshop is one of four co-hosted this year by WEF and each of the four NWSS Centers of Excellence (CoE) regions in collaboration with the CDC.

Group photo Houston-WEF Cross-Sector Workshop
Over 85 participants from the Water Environment Federation's (WEF) Network of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology attended the Cross-Sector Wastewater Surveillance Workshop held Tuesday, May 21 at Rice’s new Ralph S. O'Connor Building for Engineering and Science.

The participants who attended Houston’s workshop primarily work for health departments, public laboratories, and wastewater utilities located in the Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services regions four and six. These regions encompass Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and 72 tribes. 

The one-day workshop, designed to help accelerate the implementation of wastewater surveillance programs across the U.S., involved panel discussions with eight experts in the field and interactive breakout sessions on strategies to optimize resource allocations and ways that wastewater surveillance data has been used to inform public health interventions.

Houston Wastewater Epidemiology team members, which include investigators, expert contributors and analysts, health department professionals and academic research scientists and engineers, continuously work to target and analyze for the presence of infection within the city’s communities. Since May 2020, wastewater monitoring has included identifying and tracking SARS-CoV-2 and variants of concern, RSV, influenza, and mpox. 

WEF’s activities with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are designed to support wastewater utilities interested in wastewater surveillance, including connecting utilities with their health department partners to enable sustained program participation. As part of this initiative, WEF began offering free wastewater-based surveillance workshops and customized training programs.

Workshop moderators included Lauren Stadler, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, and Kaavya Domakonda, senior staff analyst at the Houston Health Department. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer with the Houston Health Department and a professor in the practice of statistics at Rice, kicked off the workshop and welcomed over 85 participants.

Cross-Sector Workshop Panelists
  • Nathaniel Culberson, Data Coordinator, Kentucky Wastewater Surveillance System
  • Kathryn Catlin, Wastewater Systems Manager, City of Harrison, Arkansas
  • Cristina Meza, Epidemiologist and Wastewater Surveillance Coordinator, Georgia Department of Public Health
  • Rachel Poretsky, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Michelle Crum, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Education; Interim Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine and Population Health, UT Tyler School of Medicine
  • Virginia Guidry, Branch Head and Environmental Justice Lead, Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology Branch, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
  • Richard McMullen, Associate Director for Science, Center for Local Public Health; State Environmental Health Director, Arkansas Department of Health
  • Bina Nayak, Water Research Project Manager, Pinellas County Utilities, FL
Houston Workshop Organizers
  • Anna Mehrotra, Director, Wastewater Surveillance Program, WEF
  • Jenny Sabater, Manager, Wastewater Surveillance Program, WEF
  • Lauren Stadler, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University
  • Kaavya Domakonda, Senior Staff Analyst, Houston Health Department
  • Rebecca Schneider, Staff Analyst, Houston Health Department

Shawn Hutchins, Communications Specialist