Published: June 5, 2017

Title: Technology, Preferences, & Cooperation: Investigating Sustainable Community-Based Water Treatment in Rural India

Where and When

SEEC, Environmental Engineering Computer Lab (S265); 
Friday June 9, 2017:  Noon to 1 PM

Katherine Alfredo, PhD
Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Scholar, NEERI (Nagpur, India)
Adjunct Research Scientist, Columbia University (NY, NY)


India relies heavily on groundwater supplies for drinking water and is, therefore, one of the countries most impacted by geogenic contaminants such as fluoride. In rural areas of Maharashtra, where alternate sources are not available and piped water is not plausible, water treatment facilities are installed by companies under a government contract. Community-based treatment systems are gaining in popularity in rural areas not scheduled to receive piped water in the near future; yet, the influences that cause a utility to either succeed or fail are not well understood. One technology that is used to treat water in many fluoride-impacted areas is electrocoagulation. In the fall of 2014, eleven villages with electrocoagulation defluoridation (EDF) treatment plants installed by the same company were scheduled for transfer from company management to Gram Panchayat (village council) management, creating a consistency in plant type, company management, and contract date expiration for the study. In this context, I designed several studies to address the following four objectives: 1) evaluate the perceptions and attitudes at the household- and community-level towards the treatment plant and fluoride contamination; 2) quantify community support through measures of willingness to pay for and willingness to give in-kind contributions to the treatment systems at the point of transition; 3) investigate cooperative behaviour related to potential policy and; 4) investigate optimization of the EDF technology to provide operators with management and maintenance guidance. The research project uses a source-to-user approach in evaluating the sustainability of community-based drinking water treatment facilities.


Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Dr. Katherine Alfredo received her BE in Civil Engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in NY, NY and subsequently completed her MSE and PhD in Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on the chemical interactions between fluoride, aluminum, and natural organic matter during drinking water treatment. After completing her PhD, Dr. Alfredo was a Researcher at the American Water Works Association policy division in Washington D.C. investigating water quality compliance and policy. Before starting her postdoctoral position at Columbia University’s [Columbia Water Center, Dr. Alfredo was a Critical Language Scholar (2013) and studied Hindi in Jaipur, India because it allowed her to oversee survey administration and speak directly to water treatment operators in India. Dr. Alfredo’s research interests include understanding the structure of water rates in the United States, investigating water quality policy and the impact on utility compliance linking agricultural water usage with long term water quality issues in India and researching defluoridation evaluation and monitoring in India. Dr. Alfredo investigates the policy and technical obstacles to providing potable drinking water free from excess contaminants. As a Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Scholar, Dr. Alfredo investigated how and why rurally-implemented drinking water treatment plants both succeed and fail when their management is transferred to the community. Currently, she is continuing her research pursuits as an Adjunct Research Scientist at Columbia University.