Published: Oct. 8, 2014

Continuing its commitment to improving America’s drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 9 announced more than $8 million in grants to create two national centers for research and innovation in small- to medium-sized drinking water systems.

The recipients are the University of Colorado Boulder to launch the Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge (DeRISK) Center, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) Center. These two EPA-funded centers will develop and test advanced, low-cost methods to reduce, control and eliminate groups of water contaminants that present challenges to communities worldwide.

CU-Boulder will receive $4,099,973 for the DeRISK Center led by R. Scott Summers, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. The center will be housed at CU-Boulder in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), the University of Alaska at Anchorage and Arizona State University, as well as partners from state and local government agencies, private sector organizations and the Canadian small systems network, RES’EAU-WaterNET.

The center will work closely with state agencies to develop methods to facilitate the approval and implementation process of new systems. Sustainable and innovative technologies have great potential but often face regulatory hurdles simply because they’re so new, said Summers.

“Big cities have the resources to hire specialized personnel to their staffs or to turn to external experts for assistance,” he said. “Small systems often do not have that capacity to implement, operate and maintain the necessary improvements.”

The center’s research also will focus on the development and application of photon-based treatment and novel biotreatment systems that sustainably control microbial contaminants, reduce nitrate and minimize disinfection byproducts that may pose health risks. In addition, distribution system technologies will be developed with the goal of better understanding the systems to reduce risk at the most problematic locations.

“These centers will help to develop innovative and practical solutions for challenges faced by smaller drinking water systems, which make up the majority of public water systems in the United States,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “Providing cost-effective solutions to help these systems deliver safe, high-quality drinking water will help improve the health, economy and security of our nation’s communities.”

Ninety-seven percent of the nation’s roughly 160,000 public water systems serve fewer than 10,000 people. These drinking water systems face many obstacles including limited resources, aging infrastructure and compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

For more information on the grant recipients and centers visit