Stanford freshwater solution gets global recognition

Photo of two pairs of hands under a rudimentary water pipe.Water is wealth. Wherever access to freshwater is scarce, food production, human health and education – economic underpinnings – generally suffer. Ending water poverty – more than 750 million people lack access to clean drinking water – is the only way to level the playing field.

During World Water Week in Stockholm recently, the Stanford Woods Institute’s Water, Health and Development Program (WHD) won a $15,000 prize and international recognition for its efforts to develop an affordable, sustainable solution. The prize was presented to Lotus Water project team member YOSHIKA CRIDER, former Stanford environmental engineering and science graduate student, as part of the Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge.

The project involves the design of a community-scale, fully automated chlorine dosing device that can be installed on shared water points in low-income urban settings. The device requires neither reliable electricity nor 24/7 supply to function consistently.

“It’s exciting to have our approach to expanding access to safe water in urban settings recognized as innovative,” said Lotus Water team member and Stanford Woods Institute research associate AMY PICKERING. “Disinfecting at the point of collection overcomes the high cost of centralized city-wide treatment while at the same time removing the burden of household behavior change to treat water in the home.”

The Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge supports “innovative solutions to improve sustainable access to safe water and sanitation.” It was established to contribute to the Water for Life Decade, an international initiative to hold countries accountable for their commitments to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The Lotus Water project was chosen for being replicable, scalable, sustainable and innovative and emphasizing solutions with practical applicability.” It and other winning projects will be featured in Elsevier journal Water Research.

The team is advised by Woods Senior Fellows JENNA DAVIS, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and STEPHEN LUBY, professor of medicine. It has received support from the Woods Institute, including the Woods’ Mel Lane Student Grants Program, and Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Lotus Water works in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city that is one of the most densely populated in the world and that struggles to provide its rapidly expanding population with safe water – a challenge especially felt by slum residents, who are disproportionately impacted by the burdens of diarrheal disease.

More than 90 percent of households in the slums of Dhaka are served through public taps or hand pumps, each of which is typically shared by 10 to 100 households. The Stanford team conducted a survey of shared water points in Dhaka slums and found 97 percent to be contaminated with fecal indicator bacteria.

The Lotus Water team plans to use award funds toward constructing, installing and maintaining 150 devices serving 10,000 people in Dhaka. These installation sites will be used to evaluate health impacts and to test the viability of potential business models. The team’s business pilot will involve offering landlords different packages of chlorine refill and hand pump maintenance services. This experiment will help identify those services that landlords value most, and the prices they are willing to pay for them.

The project has also received additional support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the World Bank and Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

BY ROB JORDAN, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment