Hannah Safford

Hongtao Hao / 2021-06-16


Hannah Safford in St.Gallen, May 2019

Hannah Safford in St.Gallen, May 2019

Seeing herself as a bridge linking “the science and the policy-making community,” Hannah Safford has been using her intellectual and technological capital for a purpose: to make sure there is enough clear water to use on our planet.

Partly due to climate change, water resources are becoming increasingly scarce globally. To combat this pressing issue, relying on existing water is not enough; we have to reuse dirty water. To recycle water, the first step is water treatment. The second step, which has been overlooked, is to ensure that the treated water is free of harmful chemicals and pathogens. This is what Hannah, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering at University of California—Davis, is focusing on: to detect disease-causing contaminants after water treatment.

For-profit companies alone cannot solve this water shortage problem. Although some water treatment businesses have been making profits, most companies in the U.S., where water is cheap, lavish water as they wish.

“Conserving water was not built in the private sector model,” Hannah says.

Hannah believes to tackle large-scale environmental issues, scientists and policy-making bodies have to join hands. This is why Hannah, while pursuing two Master’s degrees at Princeton University, worked for two years at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)—a job she started when she was just 22.

At OSTP, Hannah co-organized the first-ever White House Water Summit and co-authored a Federal task force. She also played a role in the U.S. government’s signing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Hannah’s vision of a more sustainable environment goes beyond the U.S. border and water issues. As a teenager, she was a senior volunteer for San Francisco Zoo for six years. While still an undergraduate in chemical engineering at Princeton, Hannah travelled to Kenya, conducting research on water flows in savannah. After her work at OSTP, she served as an advisor for lawmakers on a statewide solar plan in New Jersey. Now, she is active at the UC Davis Policy Institute and serves on the City of Davis Natural Resources Commission.

Hannah says ordinary people like you and me can also contribute to a more sustainable environment.

“You can show up to your city council meeting and you can provide comments about what issues you care about,” she says. “When people are asking for volunteers, you can step up and do that. It’s amazing to me how many opportunities there actually are for people to get involved in policy processes and how few people take advantage of those.”

Last modified on 2021-07-16