Research Program

Desalination and wastewater reuse are seen as major technological interventions that can address increased pressure on freshwater resources from growing urban demands and increasing water deficits due to climate change. Technology advances are making unconventional water production a viable and cost-effective competitor for traditional sources. Critics, however, highlight several impediments to their sustainable implementation: increased water prices, cultural non-acceptance, reliance on technical expertise, pollution outflows, and energy demand and costs. Moreover, supply-led solutions unevenly impact regional water distribution and advance new business opportunities while sidelining the social and ecological value of water. To address the global challenge, our research question is: Can desalination and wastewater reuse technologies deliver sustainable transformations of urban water systems across the globe?

This project examines desalination and water reuse globally and across case study sites in Texas, California, Australia, and Israel. Each case faces contemporary and projected water scarcities due to increased growth and projected climate change and represents diverse strategies and governance landscapes that influence the roll-out of unconventional urban water source development. These sites also reflect the common practice that desalination and water reuse operate in conjunction with one another, thus underscoring the need to study the interaction of these systems in urban water security plans rather than in isolation.

The project is guided by four objectives tied to several research activities.

  1. Analyze the nature and dynamics of the global desalination and wastewater reuse sector.
  2. Describe how existing water and urban governance systems, law, and regulation hinder or stimulate desalination and water reuse projects.
  3. Examine institutional, sectoral, and stakeholder perspectives on urban desalination and water reuse.
  4. Evaluate the water case studies in terms of sustainability benchmarks and develop sustainability assessment tools to evaluate and promote pathways to urban water sustainability.