Research Agenda

Our goal is to provide students and faculty the opportunity to create new knowledge and participate in solving complex regional, national, and global environmental water problems. We intend to expose students to a wide-range of research, learning, and community service opportunities. We will assemble and detail current Penn research activities in the water sciences and engineering, as well as in the related environmental humanities fields, to catalogue the existing strengths of the University in interdisciplinary water research.

General Approach

Advance the new transdisciplinary field of urban water sustainability and resilience

  • Promote the coordination of integrated urban land, water and infrastructure management and policies to simultaneously address social, economic and ecological issues of equity and justice
  • Provide integrated planning and implementation guidance to cities and their water utilities on innovative, integrated, coordinated solutions

Foster innovation through exchange of ideas in workshops, forums, lectures and papers

Bring together practitioners, scientists, engineers, academicians, entrepreneurs and community to advance ideas into practice

Guide a robust water research agenda and ensure its application toward innovative solutions

  • Connect and coordinate water science and policy research and water related activities across the university
  • Encourage interdisciplinary and collaborative research between Penn faculty and students, local schools, community organizations, government institutions and utility leaders

Prepare the next generation of water leaders

  • Implement a transdisciplinary approach to issues of water though public health, ecology, technology, business, governance, economy, equity, urban studies, city planning, design, energy and climate change
  • Create and provide water focused courses and lectures, utility management training, internships, fellowships and a certificate program for graduate students and executive water professionals

Encourage local solutions to regional water issues

  • Engage local government, environmental organizations, consumer advocates and community leaders to promote community engagement and multi-stakeholder collaboration to create solutions for environmental justice, social equity and water affordability issues
  • Partner to support non-traditional learning opportunities

Expand capacity across the mid-Atlantic region and global network

  • Establish a water executive’s business and development partnership to support the growth of the region’s water assets and business through the development of a diverse network of experts and thought leaders to answer fundamental questions about the relationship between water policy and the investment, growth, vitality, resiliency and livability of our cities
  • Explore the portability of the region’s water business and policy research to a national and global audience

General Water Focus Area

Urban Resilience and Sustainability

  • Leveraging city water systems and services for environmental, social and economic equity and justice
  • Developing programs to facilitate water affordability for underprivileged populations
  • Increasing urban and coastal resilience to extreme weather and other emergencies
  • Developing innovations and urban design with technology, monitoring, analysis and policy changes

Integrated Watershed Management

  • Regionalization of water systems
  • Managing sustainable growth and water stewardship
  • Minimizing agricultural runoff, abandoned mine drainage, fracking water and suburban runoff

Global Water, Sanitation and Public Health

  • The human right to water
  • Global financing for sustainable water
  • Conflict resolution in transboundary water systems

Contaminants of Emerging Concerns (CECs)

  • Addressing research needs in areas of source and fate of CECs in the environment, exposure routes and health concerns, treatment technologies and public policy on their production/disposal
  • Detecting and identifying microbes in water (bacteria, protozoa and viruses) are of significant concern

Advanced Water Treatment Technologies and Smart Water Systems

  • Innovations in water treatment systems (biofiltration, membranes, ozone, activated carbon, UV)
  • Monitoring and modeling of water quality changes in pipelines due to corrosion and biofilms
  • “Smart” water systems: digital transformation, big data integration, AI, robotics, remote sensors, etc. 

Ecosystems, Water Quality and Biodiversity

  • Managing and restoring ecosystems for water services and biodiversity
  • Fluvial geomorphology and natural stream management

Water Scarcity and Flood Management

  • Responses to rising tides, flooding, stormwater management and water scarcity
  • Assessing vulnerabilities, managing/communicating risk and uncertainty, and strategies for adaptation
  • Water research to develop alternative sources of water (desalination, watewater reuse, conservation)

The Food: Energy: Water (FEW) Nexus

  • Innovation in providing water for food and energy without sacrificing water quantity or quality for people or ecology
  • Innovation in utility operating efficiency, renewable energy, water reuse, and nutrient, carbon and thermal recovery

Infrastructure Economics and Capital Financing

  • Innovative financing, tariff and capital procurement models for infrastructure investment
  • New models for public private partnerships

Water Law, Regulations and Governance: Science and Politics

  • Science and technology in policy development

“Water is an increasingly powerful lever that connects all of humanity.”

Will Sarni
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