Reader Profile - Robert Traver
By Carol Brzozowski
For Robert Traver, an engineering professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, the real classroom is outdoors. You’ll find him there with students monitoring and testing the effectiveness of a range of stormwater control measures (SCMs). Traver is director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership (VUSP), created in 2002 as a joint effort between his department and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to promote cooperation among the private, public, and academic sectors and advance the evolving field of sustainable stormwater management through research on innovative SCMs, directed studies, technology transfer, and education. VUSP was born of the belief that solely considering peak flows was not meeting stormwater goals.
“The EPA was talking, addressing nonpoint-source pollution and geomorphology. We figured out very early this was going to be coming down and be a big shock to the system,” says Traver, adding that engineers are “not used to dramatic change” and would need help learning about and implementing new approaches.
The campus hosts many experimental sites, some of which are now considered mainstream, such as porous pavement, green roofs, rain gardens, and wetlands. A lack of funding stymies efforts to study them all—only five of the 20 SCMs on campus are studied. On the bright side, VUSP has monitored one site for 10 years, which Traver points out is unique in the United States. Traver’s team determines how and why SCMs work. “A lot of design rules that are sacrosanct were good ideas, but have never been evaluated,” he says. “There are a lot of areas where it’s not as simple as removing an inch of rain.” VUSP is currently examining how evapotranspiration can improve device performance. While those in the industry acknowledge its importance, no one has yet delved into how it can be used as a tool, Traver points out.
What He Does Day to Day
Traver teaches classes and monitors the progress of about 10 graduate students working on the SCM studies. He writes reports and stories for publications and conducts administrative tasks for grants. Much time is spent on outreach and facility tours with grad students to examine what is and is not working. VUSP also reaches out to the industry for project and study ideas.
What Led Him Into the Stormwater Field
After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute in 1978, Traver—who says water and nature’s power always fascinated him—was hired at a small engineering firm in the year Pennsylvania passed its first stormwater management act. Traver was asked to design detention basins. “I had never had a hydrology course as an undergraduate, which is amusing because I now teach them,” he says. The Arab oil embargo forced many engineering projects—and even the firms—to shut down. Traver returned to school, earning a master’s degree in water resources in civil engineering from Villanova. The professors’ lifestyle appealed to him, so he earned a Ph.D. at Penn State.
What He Likes Most About His Work
Traver says he enjoys watching students develop through the years and also likes that the relatively new field of stormwater management has rapidly evolved in a short time period. “Ten years ago, we weren’t building any of these things,” he says. “We’re learning new things every day about how to improve what we do. That is very exciting to me. The only frustrating part is that sometimes people are a little reticent to move forward in their thinking.”
His Biggest Challenge
A lack of funding sources is Traver’s biggest challenge. “Some places look at this as applied research, so it’s not really a subject for many of the larger grants,” he says. The engineering community is not accustomed to paying for its own research like other industries do, he adds. “The other thing that bugs me is that it’s very slow getting information out there,” he says. “By the time we finish a grant and go through a verification and validation process for different journals, it might be two years. The states and their manuals take another five years to catch up.
“I’m sitting here with knowledge two years ahead of time that we would like to get out more.”
Author’s Bio: Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to stormwater and technology.