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Title page for ETD etd-06282018-093341

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Peters, Chelsea Nicole
URN etd-06282018-093341
Title Freshwater in Coupled Human-Natural Systems in Bangladesh
Degree PhD
Department Environmental Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
George M. Hornberger Committee Chair
David J. Furbish Committee Member
Hiba Baroud Committee Member
John C. Ayers Committee Member
Ralf Bennartz Committee Member
  • science communication
  • multicriteria decision analysis
  • drinking water
  • freshwater
  • polder
  • groundwater-surface water interactions
  • Farzanas Journey
  • childrens book
  • methane
  • inundation
  • coupled human-natural systems
  • salinity
  • Bangladesh
Date of Defense 2018-03-15
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation explores the freshwater resources in the coastal region of Bangladesh. Freshwater serves as a major link between Bangladesh's particularly complex and unstable coupled human and natural systems. The coastal lowlands in Bangladesh are particularly susceptible to water resource quantity and quality issues. Here, we consider the hydrological, decision-making, and educational factors associated with drinking water shortages on an embanked island, or polder, in southwestern Bangladesh.

We first attempt to locate freshwater amidst the brackish groundwater by exploring local groundwater-surface water interactions in the poldered region. We conclude that active exchange of freshwater is limited, and the small-scale variations in groundwater salinity are likely caused by heterogeneity in delta formation. Without adequate ground truthing of groundwater quality, the ability to deduce the exact location of freshwater pockets is restricted so other drinking water sources must be pursued.

We then explore the various technical, economic, social, and environmental factors that influence the most frequently used drinking water sources. Using multicriteria decision analysis, we assess the probable success of drinking water supplies and prioritize the sources that are most likely to succeed in the future. We consider differences among stakeholder preferences and multicriteria decision analysis methods to investigate the influences of prioritization and methodological process. We demonstrate the multifaceted approach that will be needed to resolve water management problems, while also showing that rainwater harvesting is often the most effective, high-quality source of drinking water in coastal Bangladesh.

Finally, we use a children's book to create a sustainable relationship with vulnerable communities in Bangladesh. Written, illustrated, and freely distributed in the Bengali-language, the book is a place-based tool to disseminate our understanding of the coupled human-natural system back to the rural Bangladesh communities, as well as to teach others about the water, land, and people of Bangladesh.

A better understanding of water systems and their complex interactions between human-natural systems will be essential to the success and sustainability of global water systems. This Bangladesh case study shows that innovation and ambitious research can lead this effort, but it ultimately will be sustained by science communication and relevance to society.

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