Graham Sustainability Institute

Linking Research and Management for Safe and Sustainable Water Supply by Drinking Water Utilities

A public potable water tap in Lambaréné, Gabon

A public potable water tap in Lambaréné, Gabon

Project Team

Lutgarde Raskin, U-M Engineering (PI)
Rebecca Hardin, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability 
Matthew Vedrin, U-M Engineering
Melina Bautista, U-M Engineering
Adelaide Nieguitsila, University of Science and Technology of Masuku, Gabon
Franck Binze Bi Kumbe, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Project Summary

In Gabon, intermittent water supplies are common and sanitation infrastructure to keep waste separate from drinking water is lacking, resulting in a high risk of drinking water contaminated after treatment.

The Society of Energy and Water of Gabon (SEEG), the new national drinking water utility, is struggling to improve drinking water supply and maintain safe water quality that meets the rapidly growing demands of the population, particularly given the low availability of capital resources. At the same time, there is also widespread public skepticism and distrust following the ousting of the previous drinking water treatment operator.

Water quality problems are not, however, limited to low-income contexts. In the U.S., aging infrastructure results in frequent water main breaks and low-pressure events, which can allow microbial contaminant infiltration, causing water quality concerns similar to those in intermittent water supply systems. These conditions are exacerbated in cities with declining populations and dwindling public funds. Additionally, an increasing public distrust in water utilities and governments is straining these relationships. In both high- and low-income contexts, it is critical to confront the demands for water supply and monitoring to improve water safety. 

This project will catalyze the first formal partnership between the SEEG, researchers in the United States (University of Michigan, UM), and researchers in Gabon (University of Science and Technology at Masuku, USTM; the Center for Medical Research in Lambarene, Gabon, CERMEL; and the Gabonese government’s National Center for Scientific Research, CENAREST).

The projects seeks to create balanced collaborative practice among the partners while pioneering a model for integrative water quality capacity within Gabon. Building on other U-M funded efforts, this catalyst grant will sponsor a visit by professional Gabonese partners and collaborators to Ann Arbor for in-person learning exchange and research agenda building.  Through participation in workshops, water treatment facility tours, and planning meetings, the team will co-develop a white paper research agenda.

This work is an important initial step toward building a collaborative utility-research consortium in Lambarene that aims to improve the utility’s water treatment and water quality monitoring processes, the relationship and trust between the utility and the residents, and the overall health and quality of life of residents in Lambarene. In the long term, this effort aims to open a conduit of learning, research, and practice exchange between the Michigan and Lambarene contexts that improves water quality management and services to the public in both contexts.

This project received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant in 2019.