Water Security: “There’s Always More That Can be Done”

Date: 11/14/2018

Author: Cassie Oswood, Public Relations Manager

The Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Water Security discovery lead Dr. Wendy Jepson presented at the Speaker Series on her two Water Security Research activities. Dr. Jepson’s serves on the Executive Committee for the Household Water Insecurity Experiences – Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN). Dr. Jepson and her team of researchers and practitioners also received the X-Grant for $1,500,000 to fund the “Pathways to Sustainable Urban Water Security: Desalination and Water Reuse” project. This means that over the next 3 years, Dr. Jepson’s team of over 25 institutes and 40-60 scholars will be working to discover solutions to global water insecurity and determining if those solutions are particularly sustainable.

The Household Water Insecurity (HWISE) Research Coordination Network (RCN) operates at the strategic intersection of social science discovery, policy, and practice. The project’s mission is to “build a community of practice and collaboration that fosters key analytics and theoretical advances coupled with the development of research protocols and standardized assessments to document, benchmark, and understand the causes and outcomes of water insecurity at the household scale.” HWISE has conducted research at over 30 sites, each with approximately 250 surveys, producing reports from over 9,000 households in the dataset. This data is being used to create the first ever cross-culturally calibrated standard for water insecurity scale. The scale is based on as 12-item metric. Dr. Jepson says that these measurements and data are critical for the implementation of the scale and hopes that it advances research and development in water security for global households.

The question is can desalination and wastewater reuse technologies deliver sustainable transformations of urban water systems across the globe? To find the answer the “Pathways to Sustainable Urban Water Security: Desalination and Water Reuse” project has four main research objectives:

  • ocument the nature and dynamics of the global desalination and wastewater reuse sector
  • Describe how existing water governance systems, law, and regulation hinder or stimulate desalination and water reuse projects
  • Examine institutional, sectoral, and stakeholder perspectives on urban desalination and water reuse
  • Evaluate the “new” water case studies in terms of sustainability benchmarks.
The main obstacle facing alternative/unconventional water security solution such as desalinization is that infrastructure can be altered, but without public support there cannot be sustainable outcomes. Barriers facing desalination include increased water prices, cultural non-acceptance, health concerns, over-reliance on technical expertise, legal barriers, pollution outflows and environmental impacts and hydrological changes.

An important aspect of this research project that contributes to its success is the importance it places on strong collaboration within the team of researchers as well as with external constituencies. “I would look to the Institute as an example of how to collaborate and work together,” says Dr. Jepson.
Over the next 3 years Dr. Jepson and her team of researchers will produce a global database and academic publications on the results of the project, participate and lead workshops on legal; aspects, science and policy, and stakeholder engagement, and provide student internship opportunities with sectoral actors. The team will also work to identify governance and stakeholder models for desalination and water reuse projects, as well as create evaluative tools to assess sustainability in the unconventional water sector. In the words of Dr. Jepson, “There’s always more that can be done.”