New class on potable water offered

glass of water

CEE 597B - Potable Water for Small and Disadvantaged Communities:

Instructors and resource providers:

  1. Dave Reckhow  – Civil & Environmental Engineering; water quality and treatment ( )
  2. Emily Kumpel – Civil & Environmental Engineering; water for low income communities ( )
  3. Tim Ford – Environmental Health Sciences; waterborne pathogens and community engagement ( )
  4. Anita Milman – Env. Conservation; water resources and environmental governance ( )

In the US, there are about 150,000 public drinking water systems, of these 50,000 are considered community water systems.  The vast majority of these systems are small (serving less than 3,300 people), underfunded, under staffed and experience almost daily challenges to meet the needs of their customers, and the regulatory agencies.  This creates new underserved populations in communities that are often already disadvantaged; a situation that raises serious environmental justice concerns.  Solving these problems requires a concerted effort by interdisciplinary teams including social scientists, engineers, political scientists, public health scientists, chemists and economists.  Some of the relevant areas of study include:

  1. Institutional structure, incentives and dynamics
  2. Interactions across levels of government, (esp there's a big line of research on policy implementation and why policy outcomes aren't as expected) 
  3. Social capital
  4. Politics
  5. Engineering
  6. Water Quality & Public Health
  7. Economics (includes transaction costs)
  8. Participation (and it's pitfalls)
  9. Community-based management
  10. Capacity
  11. Science-policy interface (credibility, legitimacy, saliency, usability and usefulness)
  12. Psychological aspects (risk protection/management, motivations, conservativeness, behavior)

In this course, we will create several interdisciplinary teams of students who will work together over the semester to address problems from a specific nearby public water system (i.e., the “study site” or “field site”).  The study site(s) will be selected by the course instructors in consultation with the New England state water administrators.  Each of the instructors will present background on public water supplies from the perspective of their academic disciplines.  The lead instructor (Reckhow) will then present case studies from recent experience from the Res’Eau Community Circle program as well as other similar efforts (e.g., Community Engineering Corps).  The instructors will then work with each of the student teams to begin addressing the problems at the assigned study sites.  This will include: (1) documenting the system and its challenges based on existing records at the state offices and community files; (2) identification of the key stakeholders, (3) on-site or video meetings with those key stakeholders; (4) development of a preliminary report on the system needs, problems, and solutions already proposed by the stakeholders; (5) development of a plan and report including proposals for new, alternative solutions to the identified problems..

Each team will be asked to prepare a preliminary and final semester report and present their findings (both preliminary and final) to the class.  Grading will be based on the reports, the group presentations, as well as participation with the instructors over the course of the semester.