Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Maya A. Trotz, Ph.D.
James R. Mihelcic, Ph.D.
E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.
Adrian Cashman, Ph.D.
José Zayas-Castro, Ph.D.
Household Technology Adoption, Infrastructure Transitions, Organization Resilience, Small Island Developing States, Water and Sanitation Governance
Resilience is gaining popularity in the water sector where it described as contributing to reduced vulnerability to water-related risks and hazards including climate change. Unfortunately, literature in this area, contributed mainly from North America and Europe, is fragmented with a concentration on engineering resilience in water supply infrastructure. The absence of any scholarship on resilience for a small island nation, coupled with the absence of sociological contributors to building resilience in this sector motivated this research.
The goal of this research was to understand and evaluate how resilience is characterized and operationalized in the Barbados water and wastewater infrastructure system, using a socio-technical system framework. The socio-technical framework (physical components, people, institutions) allowed for evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of different pathways for building resilient water and wastewater services at the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), a public statutory organization formed in 1981 with a mandate to provide safe, reliable and sustainable water and wastewater collection and treatment services to its customers. The mixed methods research approach included: interviews with 9 utility management personnel, interviews with 3 utility management stakeholders, surveys of 144 utility employees, comparative analysis, technology adoption interviews & participant observations at ten households, document review & GIS database analysis, service-user report (complaint) analysis, a practitioner workshop with 9 participants, and program financial cost assessment. Research in Barbados was conducted between July 1, 2018 and December 1, 2019.
To identify the resilience properties, utility management, external management stakeholders and utility employees answered the question “What does resilience for the Barbados water and wastewater infrastructure system, and the BWA mean to you?” Analysis of these answers identified twenty-four (24) resilience properties (anticipate, adaptive/flexibility, coping, learning, minimum level of service, recovery (ability to recover quickly), re-engineering fundamental processes, robustness/absorptive, buffering, diversity, redundancy, climate resilience, energy resilience, financial resilience, physical system, collaboration/collaborative, innovation and creativity, leadership, minimization of silos, staff engagement and involvement, and stakeholder engagement), three (3) technology-based solutions (photovoltaic solar systems, installation of booster pumps and water storage, and water supply augmentation by desalinization and rainwater harvesting) and sustainability as characteristics that enable the Barbados water and wastewater infrastructure system to be resilient. Unlike previous literature that focused water sector resilience properties as technical, this research showed that fourteen (14) of the properties are applicable to both the socio-governance and technical system components, 6 can be applied only to the socio-governance system, and 3 can be applied only to the technical engineered system.
Part of the characterization of resilience also entailed identifying system challenges and interventions required for the BWA to transition to resilient water services. Challenges across the stakeholder groups included water supply scarcity, spare equipment availability, non-revenue water, staff complement and required skillsets, customer engagement, tariff sustainability and budget constraints. Consequent priority interventions included a creation of a maintenance program for existing assets, capital improvement projects, water supply augmentation, workforce training, succession planning, leadership and governance, inter-agency partnerships, water-energy nexus company opportunities, regulatory compliance, and utility financial planning. For these eighteen (18) recommended interventions those already supported by the current BWA’s governance structures, policies and practices will be easier to operationalize. Whereas, others will require intentional planning and implementation to change the infrastructure system. The transition to resilient utility services will therefore require an alignment of the stakeholder interventions with BWA plans, policies and practices.
Designed to provide water for a family of four under normal consumption and emergency conditions for 2.8 to 4 days respectively, the BWA’s Personal Tank Program (PTP) faces challenges with cost sustainability, staff cuts, delays in the technology adoption process due to incomplete or incorrect fulfilment of customer pre-installation requirements. To support the PTP’s implementation, a re-envisioned Public Private Partnership (PPP) using a performance-based management and operation contract was proposed by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Socio-technical factors that are barriers and/or enable success of the PTP include: affordability of service user system payments which are equivalent to 4.8% of the annual income of the those program participants who earn less than BBD 20,000 per year (approximately 50%); incorporating gender considerations in program and technology design, a formal training program for system use, maintenance and water quality monitoring; system design alternatives that reduce pump energy use; an enabling environment for execution of the PPP that facilitates knowledge co-development, and includes a grievance and conflict resolution mechanism; and a utility funding mechanism to support this program over the long term that is not solely reliant on grant funding.
The BWA’s PTP is a unique example of actionable lessons that leverage social and technical factors, for successful utility service delivery, and household potable water storage technology adoption. With the nascent trend of water utilities providing households with services beyond the meter, resilience learning for water sector transition and change in this Caribbean context, can inform overall resilience practices for the sector globally.
Scholar Commons Citation
Isaacs, Wainella N., "Socio-Technical Transitions in the Water Sector: Emerging Boundaries for Utility Resilience in Barbados" (2020). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.