Project Details


Project Summary-1
In the United States more than 2M people live without household access to clean water. Much of this
household water insecurity occurs in small rural and often marginalized communities on American Indian
reservations and in small settlements called colonias found along the US-Mexico border. This lack of
complete access to water is surprising given the sophistication of drinking and waste-water infrastructure
in the developed world including the US. This is the US Water Access Gap and the purpose of this
proposal is to create convergence research mechanisms to close this gap. To do this we propose to address
the need for integrationconvergenceof social and physical water infrastructure. Social infrastructure
includes institutional capacitystandards, technical capacity and an effective business model for
delivering water that meet public health standards. Physical infrastructure includes technologywater
treatment technology, information technology for sharing information about water availability and
quality, and a learning platform for training and sustaining local workforce to operate water treatment
technology. In colonias and other informal settlements, water sharing occurs informally. Here we define
an informal water sharing system (hereafter, InWaSS) as the integrated physical and social
components of infrastructure that facilitate transfers of water between users to deliver water at the
household level within informal settlements.
Intellectual Merit: The central thesis of our proposed work is that transition of InWaSS to greater
household water security requires intervention (disruption) in one or more aspects of infrastructure in
a way that catalyzes better integration of the social and physical components of this
infrastructure. Similarly, we hypothesize that the most appropriate disruption (cause) and the rate of
coevolution (effect) are context dependentvarying with starting conditions, or the robustness of the
InWaSS. Hence we propose the following Convergence Hypotheses for InWaSS:
1. Social infrastructure innovation leads; technology follows: Introduction of novel physical
infrastructure in colonias is successful only when preceded by innovation in social infrastructure,
because social infrastructure sustains safe and profitable system operations.
2. Antecedent social capital is the foundation for technology uptake: Robustness of informal water
sharing catalyzes uptake of new technologies, because strong antecedent social capital underlies the
propensity for further innovation in social infrastructure.
Our research plan consists of two work packages (WP) that allow us to test our research hypotheses with
depth and breadth. In WP1 we leverage the relationships and trust built by our partner, the Rural
Community Assistance Program (RCAP), to quantify the state of existing social and physical
infrastructure and its relationship to household water security in colonias from Texas to California. In
this analysis our goal is not only to test H1 and H2 (above) but to understand regional variation in the
relationship between social and physical infrastructure and water security as a function of climate
(extremes) and state law. In WP2 we will take an experimental approach in which we apply interventions
in both social and physical infrastructure to four colonias in Arizona. In this analysis, we will test our
hypotheses by varying the timing of social and physical infrastructure disruption (social infrastructure
leads by two years, vs. applied the same year as physical infrastructure) and the antecedent social capital
in a two by two design using a before-after control impact (BACI) design. Each work package has a
component in Years 1-2 (Phase 1) and Years 3-5 (Phase 2) where Phase 1 activities are designed to build
the foundation for more comprehensive activities and analysis in Phase 2.
Broader Impacts: Our project achieves broader impacts in three ways. At the highest level, our
research has community impact by experimentally evaluating the best methodologies for improving rural
community water access and closing the US water gap. At the level of training our project will a) train at
least 3 postdocs and 2 PhD students from diverse disciplines, likely double this number of individuals
over the project lifetime. We will expand on this number of convergence learners by engaging project
postdocs (from three disciplines) to oversee a graduate seminar in which 15-20 PhD students create online
pedagogy for an undergraduate class on convergence research and deliver this through the ASU Online
Effective start/end date10/1/209/30/25


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $3,548,346.00

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