Unsafe drinking water is responsible for at least 500,000 deaths every year in low- and middle-income countries, where households might use many different sources of water, and family members might therefore contact pathogens from various water supplies. That critical problem was the issue being tackled by Dr. Emily Kumpel of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department when she was selected as a UMass Center for Research on Families (CRF) Research Fellow for 2020-2021.
As the CRF selection committee wrote to Kumpel, “Your proposed project, ‘Designing Household Water Portfolios That Provide Safe and Sustainable Access to Water,’ is tremendously important and relevant to CRF's mission.”
According to its website, the CRF program aims to create a strong community of colleagues from multiple disciplines who study issues of high relevance to families and to substantially increase external funding for this research at UMass.
As Kumpel says about her research team, “We conduct research using interdisciplinary approaches to understand the complex engineered, environmental, and human systems to enable the provision of safe, reliable, and sustainable drinking water and sanitation services.”
Kumpel explains that in lower-income communities around the world, households obtain water from more than one water source to meet their needs. But, as Kumpel observes, “Despite the widespread reliance on multiple sources, the majority of our knowledge of water access has focused on only the primary source used for drinking, and investments in centralized water infrastructure focus on a single water supply to households.”
This problem, according to Kumpel, is made progressively more crucial when these complex, household, water patterns of use are increasingly affected by climate uncertainty, dwindling freshwater supplies, and aging infrastructures.
Kumpel stresses that the use of these various water resources is quite troublesome for many households. Household members can become ill from unsafe water, incur high financial and time expenditures from purchasing, treating, pumping, and storing their water, and experience the negative psycho-social impacts of inadequate access to a basic service.
These challenges, however, also present a grand opportunity to resolve this issue. As Kumpel says, “This [CRF] research develops the concept of household water portfolios by defining, characterizing, and measuring household water portfolios and exploring the use of these portfolios for improving engineering systems.”
Kumpel adds that “Understanding and measuring these complex mechanisms of water access is essential for designing infrastructure systems that enable provision of safe, sustainable water supplies.”
As a Family Research Scholar, Kumpel will enjoy many benefits. First off, CRF will fund her release from one course during the next year to allow more time for her research and for developing funding sources. Kumpel will also participate in a year-long interdisciplinary seminar facilitated by Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins, CRF director, and Dr. Holly Laws, the director of CRF’s Methodology program.
The seminar will provide support in several ways for Kumpel to conceptualize, write, and submit her planned research grant application. The support includes: facilitating presentations and discussions about how to develop strong applications; presenting concrete instruction on the details of successful application submission and the resources of the university that support application submission; and providing a forum to meet in a small group format with off-campus experts in targeted areas of research relevant to her project. (April 2020)