Solving the stormwater upstream battle
Bill Hunt develops innovative solutions for stormwater in North Carolina and beyond.
“I’m one of those people that’s been very fortunate to be doing what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years. Most of the days are not just good. Most of the days are great.”
Bill Hunt, a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in NC State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and Extension specialist, is a leading expert in stormwater management and green infrastructure. The field focuses on creating benefits from stormwater management beyond improving water quality and reducing flooding. These benefits can include increasing biodiversity and creating recreational and educational spaces.
As a Durham, North Carolina native, Hunt loves the state he calls home. He’s also always loved water. In his current roles, he has the opportunity to develop innovative solutions that not only benefit one of the state’s most important natural resources, but his expertise has also attracted international attention.
“What I found is that all this work that we had been doing to serve the citizens in North Carolina ended up being very fascinating to people that were overseas,” says Hunt. “Now, we’re going to conferences and I’m getting invited to give speeches and lead workshops all over the place.”
Every Passion Has a Place
Hunt’s career has been filled with full-circle moments, starting with his passion for water, which he developed early in life.
“When I was a little boy, I used to watch water flow in the ditch in front of my parents’ house and I would sit there and just watch it, and I’d build dams. And I think that is an important part of where I am today and why I like the job so much, in addition to the people,” says Hunt.
Though Hunt grew up in Durham, one set of his grandparents lived in New Bern, so he’d make the trip there often. Now, he collaborates with the city frequently to solve its stormwater problems.
The full circle moments continue with Hunt’s international collaborations. Though he loved water, he wanted to be a diplomat with foreign services when he was growing up.
“I love North Carolina. I love everywhere I’ve been just about. And I travel a lot now, so I realize now that I was maybe meant to be an engineering diplomat.”
Hunt also acts as an engineering diplomat when he travels with NC State students to Italy as the instructor for the Engineering in the Roman Times study abroad program through the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Hunt developed the class in 2018 after several trips to Europe and a lifetime of interest in the engineering of antiquities. Each summer, Hunt leads a group of students to see places of interest across Italy, including the Forum, the Colosseum, Pompeii and the Appian Way, the oldest road in the world, among many others.
“Part of what I try to show is if you look back at the past, you can actually gain inspiration, or even gain insight, into solving modern problems,” says Hunt.
From Student to Professor
As an alumnus and current professor at NC State, the full circle moments continue with his education. While earning his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from NC State, Hunt took an urban hydrology course, which he loved, given his interest in water.
“My professor for this urban hydrology class was a gentleman named Dr. Rooney Malcom, and I asked Dr. Malcom. I said, ‘Dr. Malcom. I don’t only want to study water. I want to be a professor. I love this stuff,’” says Hunt.
Malcom urged him to connect with Wayne Skaggs, an emeritus William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and a globally recognized expert in drainage and subsurface water management. Hunt worked with him for a summer as an undergraduate researcher.
Hunt was also the co-founder of the Student Wolfpack Club, which promotes the school’s athletic programs. It’s now one of the largest student organizations on campus and the premier student booster club in the nation.
“I loved my time at NC State as a student,” says Hunt. “What I loved the most about it is when I got here, I realized that I was with so many people that I got along with. NC State is still to this day comprised of good people.”
Hunt continued his education with a master’s degree in biological and agricultural engineering from NC State and a Ph.D. in agricultural & biological engineering from Penn State.
Solutions for Stormwater
Hunt started his career with NC State Extension over 25 years ago when he was hired to fight the massive fish kills due to stormwater problems in the eastern part of the state. Although his work still involves mitigating the risk of fish kills, it also expands to many different areas.
“The reason stormwater is such a big deal is it touches so many aspects of our lives in both day-to-day living as well as recreation, enjoyment and leisure,” says Hunt.
Hunt now works with cities across the state, including Wilmington, New Bern, Fayetteville, Asheville, Lenoir, Greensboro, Wilson and Durham. He also partners with the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Transportation, which fund some of his research projects.
“North Carolina has proven to be a very, very good state for me to work in because there are a lot of people who care, and the reason they care is because water quality is such an important part of our fabric from the mountains to the coast, ” says Hunt.
Stormwater Management for Years to Come
While helping to solve North Carolina’s stormwater issues, Hunt grabbed the attention of many others from across the international pond. Through workshops and conferences, he realized the state’s stormwater problems were not unique to North Carolina, but countries around the world were dealing with similar issues and needed solutions.
“I’ve been to every continent, except Antarctica,” says Hunt. “And to be fair, I haven’t been invited to give a workshop in South America. I’ve gone to South America for work, but in every other place, I’ve been invited to come and give workshops. There’s a whole lot of the world I haven’t seen yet, but the part that I was able to see so far I’ve loved.”
As Hunt continues to travel and develop solutions worldwide, he is also receiving recognition for his impactful career in his home state. Hunt received the 2021 American Public Works Association H. Rooney Malcom Stormwater Professional of the Year Award, which is named after his NC State mentor. During his career, Malcom conducted applied research to help the citizens and professional community throughout North Carolina. Hunt has carried on that legacy with his career.
“I don’t know if I can ever win an award that means more to me than this one,” says Hunt.
With all of his continued success, Hunt is also confident that stormwater management is in good hands for generations to come. Alumni he’s worked with are now managing stormwater in key roles across the nation.
“I feel really fortunate to have had all this great talent come through my program, and one of the greatest things as an advisor is seeing your alumni successful,” says Hunt.“And to know that there are all these people that are carrying that torch, and in the way that they are meant to carry it, is probably my career’s greatest accomplishment. I’m really fortunate and thankful for all of them.”
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.