Engineered Water, Sustainability and Health

The WASH initiative will develop engineered solutions for sustainability and health, focusing on clean water and environmental protection as key grand challenges.




This initiative addresses one of the grand challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering: “provide access to clean water” which is coupled with protection of the environment and human health. Continued access to clean water is one of the global grand challenge priorities of the 21st century. According to the National Academies, approximately 1 out of every 6 people do not have adequate access to water. Increasing urbanization and higher standards of living coupled with the spread of legacy contaminants, emerging chemicals, and microbial agents in water resources have led to water shortages and continued deterioration of the environment and water quality.

Despite considerable progress in environmental restoration, management of water resources and cleanup of contaminated sites over the past few decades, surface and groundwater contamination still poses a major challenge in the U.S. and worldwide. Treatment costs are significant; it is estimated that the cost for complete closure of Superfund facilities that significantly threaten public water supply systems (estimated at 10% of Superfund sites) is at least $110 billion. Inaction is even more costly, as water contamination threatens public health.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem through direct impact on precipitation patterns and intensity, as well as indirect effects on water quality and the aquatic ecosystem. Examination of precipitation shows that extreme precipitation has been intensifying over large parts of the global landmass for which suitable records are available. Furthermore, increased frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events will have significant impacts not only on the environment but also on human health. The longer-term impacts of climate change, extreme weather and flooding events on the environment, water quality and health are little studied. Threats to public health extend to breakdown and overflows of sewer systems and release and redistribution of toxic chemicals and carcinogens from Hazardous waste sites.

The problem is global in scope. The rapidly depleting groundwater in India, the acute water scarcity in Jordan, as well as water quality and health issues in Bangladesh are examples of major global concerns. Management and protection of the environment, water, and water-dependent resources are crucial for health, security, and sustainability. Engineering solutions for water sustainability, environmental management, and public health protection require cross-disciplinary research and training that breaks down the barriers between disciplines. Despite this, research and training in these fields are often conducted following traditional, institutional compartments – none of which can individually address these problems effectively.