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 contamination even after treatment. Further, the national water utility has struggled to improve drinking water supplies and inspire citizen confidence that drinking water is safe. The same is true in the U.S., where low-pressure events are frequent in parts of the country, and the Flint Water Crisis is far from a distant memory for many residents. 

In this project, experts in drinking water infrastructure from both the U.S. and Gabon solidified a multisector research partnership. For two weeks, Gabonese experts joined researchers at the University of Michigan for intensive professional development and research planning. Funding from the Graham Sustainability Institute made it possible for industry professionals from Gabon’s national water utility, the Society for Energy and Water of Gabon (SEEG) to participate, thereby broadening what previously had been an exchange among academics through the REFRESCH project.

During the visit, participants took part in knowledge-sharing sessions, toured rural and urban areas and local drinking water and wastewater treatment plants to examine the different challenges of delivering clean water in each setting, and presented at the annual Sustainability and Development Conference. Through this process, the researchers identified challenges shared by both countries, such as retaining quality as water travels from its source to the end-consumer, as well as possible solutions, including the use of sensors and other real-time data collection systems. 

Demonstrating promise for this partnership, the U-M and Gabonese participants have already developed a white paper outlining potential future research and collaborated on cross-national data analysis, a case study, and publications on water quality issues in Gabon. The stage is set for further comparative research studies of drinking water quality provision in Gabon and other countries, meaningful work to advance the goal of providing clean, reliable drinking water for all.

For more details, read the final project report (PDF)

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