Jacob Cantor’s path to educating residents on Virginia's Eastern Shore about household water quality started in faraway Oaxaca, Mexico.
A senior from Fairfax, Virginia, majoring in biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cantor became interested in how his academic training could benefit international development projects. So he volunteered south of the border at the Hunger Project working with clean cookstoves and water quality issues in a small village.
After volunteering in Mexico, Cantor wanted to do more. He applied for the Austin Michelle Cloyd scholarship and thought the funds he received would stretch farther if he stayed closer to home. Cantor decided to work with water quality issues in the commonwealth through Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia Household Water Quality Program.
The Virginia Household Water Quality Program provides practical information to homeowners about maintaining and protecting private water systems such as wells, springs, and cisterns.
Cantor spoke to high school students, audiences at farmers markets, and at the local community college to help educate residents about things that affect their water quality such as bacteria and other contaminants. He helped to raise the participant level of the water quality program to 200 households when the water clinic concluded.
“I really liked connecting with other students,” Cantor said. “It was really rewarding talking to them about things that they might not know about but be able to fix to make the quality of their water safer.”
Groundwater is especially important for residents of Virginia's Eastern Shore because it is the only source of fresh water for residents.
“Groundwater is a limited resource,” said Erin Ling, state coordinator of the program who worked with Cantor. “I enjoy working with students because I think they get a lot out of translating scientific information for the public without making topics too overwhelming.”
The last time that Virginia Cooperative Extension ran the water quality clinic on the Eastern Shore was 2000. Cantor was a big part of the program’s success on the Eastern Shore when it started again in 2014.
Through his work with the household water quality program, Cantor created awareness of the importance of water quality testing.
According to Cantor, household water quality issues can sometimes be mitigated by doing simple things, and also being aware of the interconnectedness of water with the rest of the ecosystem.
“There are small things that make a big difference in prevention,” Cantor said. “It’s really what we do in our everyday activities that make the difference between poor and high water quality.”
In the future, Cantor says he’d like to continue to work with community members. “I want to be the bridge between the technical and the layman’s world.”