Over the coming decades, our critical infrastructure systems need to decarbonize our energy system, protect communities from worsening weather extremes, and raise the quality of life for billions of people worldwide. Yet aging infrastructure, limited funding, environmental considerations, and deep uncertainties as to future needs complicate infrastructure design, investment, and management.

We imagine infrastructure systems that contribute to resilience, sustainability, and equity. To this end, we are developing tools to address local and global problems like urban water security, flood risk management, and the renewable energy transition.

Multilever flood resilience

20th century flood risk management emphasized the control of rivers and the prevention of flooding through a centralized, top-down paradigm. Despite some successes, flood losses continue to increase, due mainly to increased construction in flood-prone areas and changing local and global environmental conditions. This has led to an emerging consensus that large structural projects for flood risk management ought to be evaluated against and integrated into a portfolio of engineering, policy, and financial instruments such as wetland restoration, leaving “room for the river”, local vulnerability reduction measures, zoning changes, and insurance. To address these challenges, we use tools from optimization, probabilistic modeling, machine learning, and stochastic hydrology to explore how combinations of “hard” and “soft” instruments might efficiently, ethically, and reliably reduce the disruption and damage of floods.

Resilient urban water systems

Water systems in America, and around the world, are in decay, leading to three key challenges. First, aging and inadequate drinking water infrastructure jeopardizes human health, as exemplified by lead poisoning in Flint and Newark and hookworm outbreaks in Alabama. Second, outdated and insufficient wastewater treatment jeopardizes environmental (and thus also human) health. Finally, the costs of maintaining existing levels of service or better are already high and projected to grow dramatically as aging facilities near the end of their first life cycle and must be replaced, placing a burden on poor and middle class users. At the same time, new technologies for water treatment, system monitoring, and operation may enable innovative and distributed technologies like water re-use and rainwater harvesting. To address these needs, we are integrating water system models, optimization, hydroclimate simulations, and economic analysis to understand how water systems can integrate emerging technologies to enhance sustainability, resilience, and cost-effectiveness.