Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Environmental Engr. (M.S.E.V.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Qiong Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mauricio Arias, Ph.D.


Assessment Tools, Drinking Water, Monitoring and Evaluation, Panama, Sustainable Development


People all over the world still lack access to safe drinking water service. Those with access experience several issues during the first few years of installation that impede on their overall access. In order to improve water services, not only is a proper decision-making tool necessary, taking into account key factors that impact sustainable water service, but proper monitoring and evaluation is also important in ensuring service for the long term. There are several developed assessment tools used for monitoring and evaluation of water systems post-construction, applicable in various scenarios. However, there are only few tools available to facilitate the decision-making process for stakeholders implementing water systems in the field. Ideally, one tool could be used across various life-cycle stages, like planning (decision-making) and post-construction (monitoring and evaluation).

Currently, several stakeholder groups are working in Panama to improve the access of safe drinking water for rural and indigenous populations living in mountainous areas, where spring-sourced gravity-fed community-managed systems are common. Effective sustainability assessment tools including Rural Water and Sanitation Information System, SIASAR in Spanish, provide useful frameworks to create a decision making tool for this development context.

This research focused on developing a Decision-Making Tool using three key assessment tools (SIASAR, Peace Corps Panama WASH Index, & Schweitzer’s Sustainability Assessment Tool), field experience, and relevant literature incorporating technical, social, economic, and environmental factors. The Decision-Making Tool was developed to build or rehabilitate a rural spring-sourced gravity-fed community-managed water system and also serve as a practical monitoring and evaluation tool. The tool has a total of 10 indicators and 20 measures used to score various scenarios or alternatives as sustainability unlikely, sustainability possible, or sustainability likely.

The tool was successfully applied as a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool for the rural indigenous community of Quebrada Cacao in the province of Bocas del Toro in Panama. A total of 5 alternatives scenarios with estimated costs, labor expenditure and environmental impact were developed using EPANET and SimaPro to help improve the community’s rural spring-sourced gravity-fed community managed water system. Using analytical hierarchy process with weights set by three stakeholder groups in Panama (Quebrada Cacao’s water committee, Panama’s Ministry of Health, and Peace Corps Panama), these five alternative scenarios were scored using the Decision-Making Tool.

As a result, a feasible alternative was recommended for the community of Quebrada Cacao using the developed Decision-Making Tool. The tool was also successfully applied as a monitoring and evaluation tool, providing a baseline to develop applicable alternatives to improve the community’s sustainability score. This Decision-Making Tool fulfills an important gap useful for both planning and monitoring and evaluation. It provides a successful tool for application in Panama for building or rehabilitating rural spring-sourced gravity-fed community managed water systems and for other countries with a similar context. Finally, the tool also considers technical, economic, social, and environmental factors, ensuring a more holistic definition of sustainability when building or rehabilitating these water systems. Overall, this Decision-Making Tool can help reduce the number of people without access to safe drinking water around the world and also help ensure systems function sustainably for the long term.