Sophomore Seminars

Clean Water Now! Urban Water Conflicts


Why do some people have access to as much safe, clean water as they need, while others do not? You will explore answers to this question by learning about, discussing and debating urban water conflicts including the Flint water crisis, the drought in South Africa, intermittent water supply in Mumbai, and arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. In this course, you will explore the technical, economic, institutional, social, policy, and legal aspects of urban water using these and more water conflicts as case studies. You will attend lectures and participate in discussions, laboratory modules, and field work. In lectures, you will learn about the link between water and human and ecosystem health, drinking water and wastewater treatment methods, as well as policies and guidelines (local, national, and global from the World Health Organization) on water and wastewater, and the role of various stakeholders including institutions and the public, in the outcome of water conflicts. You will dive into details of conflicts over water through case studies using discussion and debate. You will have the opportunity to measure water contaminants in a laboratory module. You will sample a local stream and measure concentrations of Escherichia coli and enterococci bacteria in the water. A field trip to a local wastewater treatment plant will allow you to see how a plant operates. By the end of this course, you will have a greater appreciation of the importance of institutions, stakeholders and human behavior in the outcome of water conflicts, and the complexity of the coupled human-ecosystem-urban water system.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Alexandria Boehm

"As a teenager growing up in Hawaii, I fell in love with the ocean and the environment and developed a deep spiritual connection to the natural world. I became interested specifically in water quality as I witnessed the water becoming dirtier and dirtier in local creeks and along the coast. Through the years, I have come to appreciate that conflicts over the environment are interdisciplinary. The scientific method does not always allow one to arrive at the 'correct' solution, as it may not consider the people and institutions involved and their values. I think the most exciting way to learn about environmental science and engineering is by learning about real conflicts that are multi-dimensional. I have developed this course to provide a place for us to dive into the nuances of urban water conflicts."