Cydney Seigerman wears black glasses and smiles above a background of hills, buildings and shoreline.

What it means to be a researcher: Water science and community connections in rural Brazil

Plenty of scientists leave their comfort zone for research, but few relocate to another continent— anthropology graduate student Cydney Seigerman has done it twice. In 2014, they worked as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Madrid, Spain. Today, they live in the small city of Quixeramobim in Ceará, Brazil, and have been working there since August 2021. Seigerman is a PhD candidate in the ICON program whose research focuses on the sociopolitical and ecological aspects of water security.

Two people with helmets sitting on a white motorcycle on the porch of a house.
Seigerman accompanies Kim do Sindicato, the former director and current president of the Rural Workers’ Union of Quixeramobim, on a day of community visits. Through collaboration with him and others at the Union, Seigerman was able to get in contact with many of the communities that are participating in their survey work. [February 2022, Cachoerinha, Quixeramobim, Ceará. Photo Credit: Rubinha Bento]

For one facet of their research, Seigerman (in collaboration with the State Water Resources Company, Cogerh) carries out evaporation rate studies in two important reservoirs for local water supply. They are also conducting an in-depth household survey: Seigerman and their team of local undergraduate students and researchers from the State Meteorological and Water Resources Institute, Funceme, interview community members in Ceará about how water is used, how scarcity is dealt with, and how the politics of water impact their livelihoods. This survey contributes to the Household Water Insecurity Experience Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN).

Respect is a fundamental value of Seigerman’s work. In each of the 52 communities where the survey is being conducted, Seigerman reached out to a community leader or health agent to explain the project and schedule a visit. The families with whom the team collaborate are overwhelmingly welcoming and generous with their time and knowledge, but are at times hesitant, initially doubting that they will be able to answer the survey.

Seigerman emphasizes that those living in rural communities know more about their water use than anyone else. “People are experts in their own lives,” they said, “and you have to respect that people know their own lives better than anyone else.”

Two people standing together in the blue water of a reservoir, with the water reaching mid-thigh. To the left are four white frames (two with an aluminum foil tray and two with a clear plastic tray) tied together to make a square and secured to a ruler used to measure the water level of the reservoir. On top of the ruler is a white weather station.
Evandro, a technician at the State Water Resources Management Company, Cogerh, and Seigerman carry out preliminary evaporation studies in the Reservoir “Açude Novo” in Maraqueta, a federal settlement in Quixeramobim, Ceará. With the help of Cogerh, Seigerman is currently carrying out evaporation studies in two reservoirs key for supplying water to rural communities and cities throughout the region. [December 2021, Maraquetá, Quixeramobim, Ceará. Photo credit: Ivo Medeiros]

The traditional research process is somewhat removed from the real world. A project like this could easily be done quickly and impersonally, the data examined back in the United States- but Seigerman’s goal for their research is deeper than that.

“The objective of research in itself isn’t just to have, you know, a nice graph that quantifies what water security is,” Seigerman explained— although they acknowledge that this type of communication is also vital. “But a fundamental aspect of my research is to really make connections with all the local families and individuals with whom I’m working.”

Seigerman has seemingly become quite at home in Quixeramobim. They visited Ceará for the first time for preliminary research back in 2018 on another Spencer Grant. “That year, I spoke five words of Portuguese when I arrived,” Seigerman laughed. They have now been living abroad continuously for over a year and are comfortable in both the language and the municipality. “I have three households in three different communities where I’m now considered part of the family, and that is irreplaceable in terms of experiences.”

A woman in a pink skirt and gray top secures a pink cloth over a 20L water bottle, as a man in a purple polo shirt and camouflage pants pours water from a black bucket into the bottle. They are in front of a round, white cistern with an angled top, which has a rectangular hole from which water is retrieved from the cistern. The ground is brown dirt with some small patches of grass.
In Mearim, Quixeramobim, a couple works together to filter rainwater stored in a cistern through a cloth (the process of “coando a água”), as a treatment method before using this water for drinking and cooking. In their first round of survey collection, Seigerman found that the majority of families use this method to remove particulates from rainwater before consumption. [October 2022, Mearim, Quixeramobim, Ceará]

Seigerman has also explored a thread of political ecology through this research, discussing the ethics of “what it means to be a researcher and what it means to be a foreigner.” They described the political relationships that underly water resources, especially in rural areas, and how their research relates. Most of the families in Quixeramobim live at or below the poverty line, where the main source of income is a government program providing households with 600 reais per month (about $120 USD).

Seigerman has found firsthand the importance of “understanding that no research is neutral, and that everything is about political relationships, regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish.” They are using their time not just to work in the community, but to embrace it: “My overall goal is to value each relationship that I have and make here during my research.”

Three rows of people look at the camera, the majority holding up a blue certificate from the cistern informational course. The front row has six people: four people kneeling on the ground, with one person on each side standing up. The second row has six people standing up. The back row has seven people, who are slightly hidden by the second row. In the background, there are two houses with white walls and ceramic tile roofs and one house with a yellow wall.
Seigerman, representatives from the Antônio Conselheiro Institute (IAC, a local NGO) members of Cachoerinha, a local community in Quixeramobim, commemorate the completion of the two-day course required to receive a drinking water cistern through a program organized by IAC with government funding. In addition to teaching families how to take care of their cistern, the course challenges participants to think critically about social issues, including the politicization of water resources, gender roles and food security. [April 2022, Cachoerinha, Quixeramobimm, Ceará. Photo Credit: Rubinha Bento]

Seigerman’s research is funded by Funceme, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and the UGA Graduate School, as well as a 2022 Spencer Grant. The Spencer Grant is an annual award given to graduate students studying freshwater research management and conservation. It is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Seigerman’s research shows not just an interest in freshwater management, but also how this management is applied to real people, and the deep connections researchers have to their study sites.

Story by Olivia Allen. Photos and captions provided by Cydney Seigerman.

Precision Conservation of Imperiled Species

A tiny, rainbow-finned fish lives in the swiftly flowing waters of Georgia’s Etowah River. Known as the Etowah darter (Etheostoma etowahae), it exists only in the Etowah River Basin, mainly inhabiting the mountain streams of North Georgia.

The Etowah darter is only one example of the diverse array of freshwater fish, amphibians, crawfish and mussels that live in Georgia, including many endemic, imperiled species. However, the state is also a bustling transportation hub, with 1,253 miles of interstate highway and the busiest airport in the world.

Many of these species are highly sensitive to the threats associated with development.

In a recent project that brought together the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center and Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, researchers pinpointed ways to facilitate important construction projects around the state while tailoring conservation practices to each imperiled species’ needs.

Read the full article here.

Climate and Water Research Slam

Save the date: Climate and Water Research SlamThursday, May 12 1:00-5:00

The River Basin Center, the Georgia Initiative for Climate and Society, and the Office of Sustainability have joined forces for a climate and water “research slam” — a series of five-minute lightning talks by faculty and students on climate OR water (or both) followed by a social.

We have an awesome lineup of 24 5-minute lightning talks from a diverse group of speakers from across the UGA campus. Join us to hear about the wide range of water and climate work at UGA, to network with colleagues, and to celebrate the end of the semester. After the talks we’ll have a social with beverages and heavy snacks. Please join us!

Location: Innovation Hub, 210 Spring Street 

Schedule of Events:

  1:00 – 2:40  Session 1

  3:00 – 4:20  Session 2

  4:20 – 5:00  Social with beverages and snacks

Registration is free! But to help us plan for enough food and beverages, we ask you to please fill out this registration form by Monday May 9.

To see the full lineup, check out the draft detailed schedule (subject to correction for the next couple of days).