Clean and Sustainable Water Technology Initiative

Big letters with the words Clean Water on top of an image of a mountain with snow.

Water is the foundation of life. But across the globe, water quality is being compromised as communities struggle with population growth, climate change, industrial and agricultural pollution, and other pressures. Ensuring a safe supply of this precious resource is a growing need worldwide, a need that could become the source of increasing geopolitical conflict. 

Oregon State University launched the Clean and Sustainable Water Technology Initiative in 2018 with a $3.28 million gift from Jon and Stephanie DeVaan. At the core of this venture is a collaborative community of faculty and students, working together to solve one of the one of the National Academy of Engineering's "Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century." This effort builds on the university’s strengths, to help make Oregon State a national leader in clean and sustainable water technology solutions.

Leading the initiative is Lewis Semprini, distinguished professor of environmental engineering. Several scholars within the College of Engineering are recognized nationally and globally for innovative research on water systems. They specialize in improving access to clean water, treating wastewater, strengthening upstream processes, and improving the infrastructure needed to manage water sustainability. (Read more ...

Oregon's 'Living Laboratory'

Using Oregon's coastal and inland environments and communities as a "living laboratory," Oregon State University intends to be an unparalleled resource in designing, building and testing systems-level approaches to the problem of access to clean water. The Clean and Sustainable Water Technology Initiative will be an important first step in developing the ultimate vision of a university-wide institute for clean and sustainable water technologies. By offering transformative educational and research opportunities for students and faculty, and making real and substantial contributions to communities, Oregon State will support world-class research and train students to meet one of the world's greatest human development challenges.

Foundation for Success

Faculty in the College of Engineering and across campus have national and international reputations for conducting cutting-edge research on the development of advanced water-related technologies for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater treatment, and on the sustainable management of water/wastewater/stormwater infrastructure.

More specifically, engineering faculty are investigating microreactors and nanotechnology, and developing advanced molecular methods, novel sensors, and image analyses for environmental monitoring and process optimization. Sustainable treatment technologies and management strategies to improve water quality and reduce aquatic toxicity are also key research areas. Other engineering faculty focus on systems-level water resources management, decision-making processes, and simulation modeling. Key focus areas for our faculty working together are advanced biological and chemical processes, the treatment of emerging contaminants, and improved models for examining the service life of infrastructure elements subject to biogenic deterioration.

Securing external funding that enables that sustains a larger university-wide interdisciplinary effort over time is the goal of the initiative. Initial themes of research within the Schools of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering and Civil and Construction Engineering will include:

  • technology development for water treatment and reuse (e.g., membranes, catalysts, sensors, advanced chemical and biological processes);

  • development of nondestructive/nonintrusive testing methods and tools to assess deterioration of water and wastewater distribution infrastructure; and

  • development of smart and sustainable strategies for deploying new water treatment technology, mitigating deterioration of water infrastructure, and managing water resources.

Modern research infrastructure is key in enabling both faculty and student success, and Oregon State has made recent investments in support of our water research. Shared-use laboratories in Johnson Hall support several environmental engineering faculty and their students. In addition, in partnership with Benton County, the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Research Facility was recently completed, along with the Multipurpose River Hydraulics Research Facility These two large-scale outdoor experimental facilities give OSU researchers unique tools to use in their quest for practical solutions.

Benefits to Oregon

Using Oregon's coastal and inland urban and rural communities as the platform for these efforts will catalyze a systems-level approach supporting informed decision-making. By further expanding our interactions with external stakeholders and faculty across Oregon State University, we will evolve a highly interdisciplinary institute focused on the myriad issues surrounding the development and implementation of global solutions for sustainable clean water. Access to Clean Water is vital for the economic development or Oregon as well as providing for ecosystem and human health.

Graduates from several engineering disciplines, including environmental engineering, civil engineering, and water resource engineering are highly recruited by state and local governments, industry, water utilities, and engineering consulting firms.  Our current graduates add to the workforce of Oregon and future graduates will contribute to efforts for the provide clean and sustainable water.

Economic Development and Job Creation

It is difficult to assess the economic development that will be associated with the development of technologies that will result in access clean water. In 2004, the World Health Organization found that every dollar invested in water, sanitation, and hygiene education would bring health and other benefits totalling $3 to $34, depending on the technology used. Research for the 2006 U.N. Human Development Report estimated the total cost of the deficit in investment in water and sanitation at $170 billion, or about 2.6 percent of all developing countries' gross domestic product.

Societal Benefit

Improved access to water and sanitation could lead to a large increase in productivity in developing countries, with potential for rising household incomes and economic growth. This includes benefits from reduced diarrhea — an estimated 3.2 billion working days would be gained for people ages 15-59 by creating universal access to clean water and sanitation. Annual time savings from more convenient water supplies would save another 20 billion working days, most gained by women (Tearfund 2008).

College and University Strategic Plans

Funding for a large initiative in the area of clean water technology is directly in line with both the college's and the university's strategic plans. As called out in the COE Strategic Plan 2015-2020, clean water is one of the targeted strategic areas with existing competitive advantages, along with robotics and materials research. The Clean and Sustainable Water Technology Initiative aligns with three signature areas of the OSU Strategic Plan: Advancing the Science of Sustainable Earth Ecosystems, Improving Human Health and Wellness, and Promoting Economic Growth and Social Progress.