Improving Water Security with Innovation and Transition in Water Infrastructure: From Emergence to Stabilization of Rainwater Harvesting in the U.S.

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Virginia Tech


Globally, two-thirds of the population face significant water shortages and eighty percent of the U.S. states' water managers predict water shortages in the near future. Additionally, the current centralized system in the United States is facing significant problems of scarcity, groundwater depletion, high energy consumption and needs a trillion dollars investment in repairs, replacement, and expansion. Furthermore, due to increased urban/suburban development, runoff (stormwater) pollutes our waterways and is causing increased flooding. The status quo is unsustainable in its present form and the water security of the nation is at risk. Fortunately, in recent decades there has been a resurgence in the use of a millenniums old approach, rainwater harvesting (RWH), that if deployed broadly, will mitigate those issues created by the current centralized municipal water system and the expanding development of our cities, suburbs, and towns reducing permeable surface area and lower water security vulnerabilities. This study enlists Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) to examine the transitioning that is occurring from the current centralized municipal water system to one in which it is significantly complemented by an alternative water source, RWH. MLP posits that pressures originating in the broader landscape exerts pressures on the existing regime, as well as the community as a whole, creating an opportunity for the niche to emerge and either replace or change the regime. In the case of RWH, the myriad of pressures are only partially placed on the current centralized water supply regime providing them less pressure to change. Alongside water shortages another significant pressure being placed on the public and governing authorities is increased flooding and pollution resulting in the RWH niche emerging in the construction industry. In response to these pressures a RWH niche formed, largely outside of the existing water supply regime, and grew until it was joined by actors within the regime (e.g., plumbers, plumbing engineers, standards development organizations). This research is framed using MLP's three phases Start-up (niche), Acceleration, and Stabilization. This dissertation does three things. First it shows the internal processes occurring between the MLP levels (landscape, sociotechnical regime, and niche) and mechanisms created that foster the broader adoption of RWH. Secondly, it reveals that while the incumbent regime is not being significantly influenced by the RWH niche, the construction industry is embracing RWH (especially the commercial sector) and following the MLP pathway of Reconfiguration. Third, it looks at RWH in a phase of stabilization.



rainwater harvesting, Sustainability, water security, national security