Water Challenges


Unsustainable practices have affected the quality and availability of water resources around the world with implications to human health, food and energy security, and economic development.  These issues are most pronounced in developing countries and regions where an estimated 650 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and 1 in 3 people lack access to a toilet, but challenges remain in wealthier nations where aging infrastructure, urban growth, emerging contaminants, and climate change are straining the capabilities of wastewater treatment systems to provide safe drinking water and unpolluted lakes and rivers. Demands on freshwater resources for agriculture, energy production, and industrial use are expected to increase and these pressures will lead to increasingly difficult trade-offs that water resource managers and other decision makers will need to address.

Water challenges infographic

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Purdue’s Approach

Purdue’s water community—nearly 100 academic faculty, researchers, and students—is working to address the grand challenge of protecting the future of our water resources. Broad areas of research include water use; water pollution; aquatic ecosystems; human dimensions; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

The mission of the Water Community Signature Research Area is to foster connections across campus and around the world to facilitate interdisciplinary research that helps communities solve their water challenges. The scope of the Water Community is broad, bringing together about 75 researchers from multiple colleges including the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Education. Within the community, there are several sub-areas within the water community: Agricultural Water Management; Human Dimensions of Water; Urban Water Systems; Great Lakes Water; Ecological Restoration and Water and Energy.


The Urban Flooding Open Knowledge Network (UF-OKN): Delivering Flood Information to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere

Co-PI: Venkatesh Merwade (CIVL)

Purdue team: David Yu (Poli Sci, Industrial Eng.); Ayman Habib (CIVL)

Funding: NSF

The team is one of nine selected by NSF to be part of the NSF Convergence Accelerator initiative as part of their 2019 Cohort. The theme for this focus was, “Accelerating research to impact society at scale.” Over the next 24 months, the selected teams will continue to apply Convergence Accelerator fundamentals to include leveraging innovation processes and integrating multidisciplinary research and cross-cutting partnerships to develop solution prototypes and to build a sustainability model to continue impact beyond NSF support.  Learn more about the project here.

Venkatesh Merwade, the Purdue lead for the project, will lead the Research and Development efforts across all institutions for UF-OKN to enable integration of observed data, simulation models and other flood related information into the knowledge network. David Yu will develop and incorporate governance information and analysis capability into UFOKN. Dr. Ayman Habib will advise the team on accessing infrastructure monitoring data and how that information can be incorporated into UFOKN.

Ecological Tradeoffs in Water Quality and Climate Regulation in Restored Wetlands In Agricultural Landscapes

PI: Jake Hosen (ABE)

Co-PIs: Sara McMillan (ABE/EEE), Laura Bowling (AGRO)

Funding: USDA-NIFA

Through this research project, the team will develop a mechanistic understanding of the water quality function of agricultural wetlands and environmental regulation of other ecosystem services (ie, water for irrigation) and disservices (ie, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions).  The team builds on the assumption that strategic targeting of wetland plant species and water table management will maximize nutrient retention, improve water storage for irrigation use during dry periods, and reduce release of potent GHGs.  Through this work, the team will be able to provide critical guidance for the design and management of wetlands in agricultural landscapes that will support the creation of balance between reducing downstream nutrient loading and limiting GHG emissions through the development of predictive tools. The tools will help practitioners optimally design hydrologic characteristics (e.g., hydroperiod managed for irrigation) and plant community composition for wetland restoration projects that will maximize downstream water quality and storage of water in wetlands while also minimizing emissions of GHGs that are driving climate change.

Managing Water for Increased Resiliency of Drained Agricultural Landscapes

PI: Jane Frankenberger (ABE)

Purdue team members:  Elaine Kladivko (AGR), Laura Bowling (AGRO), Bernie Engel (ABE), Linda Prokopy (FNR)

Funding: USDA

This project is a collaborative effort aimed at addressing important land management questions through the assessment and development of new agricultural drainage technologies. Drainage is an essential component of the landscape to provide suitable growing conditions for the crops that feed and support both local and global communities. This infrastructure also creates a pathway for environmental losses to occur. With anticipated changes in seasonal precipitation patterns, water security for growing crops as well as practices to minimize offsite environmental impacts are of growing interest to landowners and the public. The vision for this project is that the process of designing and implementing agricultural drainage will be transformed so that storing water in the landscape will be considered for every drainage system as a foundation for resilient and productive agricultural systems.

More information

Robotic Water Quality Monitoring and Distribution Systems: A Pilot Study

Co-PIs: Purdue: Byung-Cheol Min (CIT) & UNSA: Mauricio Postigo (FIPS)

Co-Is: Purdue: Brittany Newell, Jose Garcia, & Richard Voyles (All SOET), Sara McMillan (ABE); UNSA: Edgar Gonzales (FGGM) & Godofredo Peña (FA, UNSA)

Funding: NEXUS

The main goal of this project is to develop a low-cost robotic water quality monitoring system for water and sediment monitoring and analysis of water bodies, as well as a smart water irrigation system for agriculture in Arequipa in Peru. The expected results from this project include a developed understanding of issues for the mine water system in Arequipa; creation and evaluation of state-of-the-art robotic water sampling and monitoring systems for water and water distribution and spraying systems; creation of prototypes of an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (ROV) platforms for water and sediment sampling and monitoring; and 4) A prototype of a smart water distribution system.

A Framework for Sustainable Water Management in the Arequipa Region

Co-PIs: Purdue: Laura Bowling, (AGRO); UNSA: Dr. Edwin Bocardo Delgado (Biology)

Co-Is: Purdue: Jane Frankenberger (ABE);  Keith Cherkauer (ABE);  Linda Prokopy (FNR);  Zhao Ma (FNR); Bernie Engel (ABE); UNSA: Jose Pinto Caceres (Agro), Hector Novoa Andia (CIVL)

Funding: NEXUS

On-going concerns about the sustainability of agronomic management and the legacy of resource extraction in the Arequipa region that threatens water quality and food safety, coupled with urgent concern regarding future water supply, make water management a critical part of future planning in this region. Our project vision is to support a culture of science-based, collaborative water and watershed management in the Arequipa region. Our mission is to understand the environmental and social dimensions of water management and watershed governance and develop research capacities, programs and tools to improve the sustainability of water management and watershed governance in the region by 2024.

Seasonal Heavy Metal Concentrations in Streams in the Arequipa Region

PIs: Purdue: Chad Jafvert (CIVL, EEE); UNSA: Betty Paredes (CHEM) & Corina Vera (CHEM)

Co-I: Purdue: Timothy Filley (EAPS, AGRO)

Funding: NEXUS

The overall goal of this project is to investigate the transport and speciation of metals (copper, lead, arsenic, etc.), in several rivers in the Arequipa district that are impacted by mine drainage. Of interest are the forms that each metal (and metalloid) takes within each river, from upstream to downstream and as a function of time (i.e., season).

Hence, metal transport in rivers is highly dependent on river hydrodynamics as well as the river water chemistry (i.e., humic materials, pH, hardness, O2, sediment characteristics). During the second year, we wish to instrument up to three locations with automated samplers to monitor metals in the associated stream water over time with high sampling frequency.

Estimating relative inputs of glacial melt-water, groundwater, and irrigation runoff in rivers of Arequipa, Peru

Co-PIs: Purdue: Lisa Welp (EAPS); UNSA: Sebastian Zuñiga

Co-Is: Purdue: Marty Frisbee (EAPS); UNSA: Jose Diaz Rodriguez (Geology); Juan Manuel Jara

Funding: NEXUS

In the arid region of Arequipa in southern Peru, water resources are vital to the 1.3 million inhabitants and large agricultural economy. Precipitation that falls at high elevations generates stream-flow in the mountains and is now heavily managed by irrigation diversions as it flows to lower elevations. Local and regional mountain snowpack play an important role in controlling the timing of river discharge either through surface runoff and/or subsurface flow paths that recharge groundwater. The more we understand the location, timing, and magnitude of groundwater recharge and storage of these poorly understood water sources, the better communities can plan for future water management and sustainable development. There is a critical need to understand and quantify the partitioning of glacial and snowpack melt-water to surface-water and groundwater and its influence on sustaining water resources for potable water, irrigation, and hydropower.

The main objective of this project is to characterize unique chemical fingerprints using stable isotopes (2H and 18O), basic water chemistry, and estimated groundwater age using tritium (3H) of groundwater, stream flow, glacial and snowpack melt-water, precipitation, and agricultural runoff in the Majes and Chili River watersheds. Results of this study will determine which below- ground flow pathways are likely connected and how they change seasonally.

SRA Convener

Sara McMillan

Agricultural And Biological Engineering
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