Amber Wutich is the program director for the Action for Water Equity. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Growing Convergence Research (GCR) program has funded a five-year grant with ASU/Future H20 to look at the role investments in social infrastructure play in the success of new water treatment systems in colonias. The project is multidisciplinary with members from engineering, computer science, education, and social science working collectively to evaluate informal water-delivery systems in these communities and potential avenues to transform them into formal systems. The project currently includes seven multidisciplinary teams in colonias in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.
Their work grows out of recent cutting-edge research revealing severe water insecurity in the Global North. Water insecurity is a major problem in the United States, where more than 2 million people lack household access to clean water. Water insecurity is more common for renters and people living in mobile homes; for disaster migrants and others living in substandard housing; for American Indians and First Nations; for Black and Hispanic communities; and in colonias and disadvantaged unincorporated communities. They focus on colonias or small, unincorporated settlements on the US-Mexico border. There are approximately 2000 colonias in Texas, 150 colonias in New Mexico, 85 colonias in Arizona, and 15 colonias in California. Research exploring “water poverty” and other water injustices in the southwest US shows colonias often depend on informal water systems. In this project, they take a justice-oriented, pro-poor, community-based participatory approach to address water insecurity in colonias. Using innovations in social, cyber, and physical infrastructure, they aim to amplify the impact of already-existing informal systems. More information can be found here.