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Smart monitoring technology of drinking water quality for improved private water supply management

Hydro Nation Scholars Programme 2021

Dr E Pagaling , , , Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Private water supplies (PWS) are a concern to public health, both globally and locally, as they are vulnerable to breakdown and subsequent ingress from agricultural run-off and septic tank failures, leading to potential consumption of microbial (and other) contaminants. In the UK, approximately 1% of all consumers receive their drinking water from PWS; in Scotland, this is around 3% (1,2). The responsibility for maintenance falls on the owners of the supplies, and so PWS experience greater administrative, management and resourcing challenges compared to larger (mains) supplies. Routine water quality testing involves measuring faecal indicator organisms (FIOs) as a proxy for the presence of pathogens, and usually takes 1-2 days (3). Novel water quality monitoring technologies designed to act as early warning systems providing results within hours are therefore essential tools, allowing users to take necessary precautions in a timely manner and mitigate health risks. It has been established that consumers believe that drinking water is safe simply because it looks, smells and tastes ‘clean’ (4), which exposes those who rely on PWS to much higher health risks than those on mains supplies. Innovative early warning systems for PWS have the potential to recalibrate perceptions of risk around water safety and stimulate attitude and behavioural change surrounding the health risks of PWS. However, perceptions of risk and the availability of water quality data may not be the only factors that shape how people perceive and ultimately use their PWS. Further research into the constraints and motivations of PWS users in the uptake of novel technologies will support a more holistic understanding of the interaction between public health, water quality, and behavioural change.

This interdisciplinary study will develop, implement and test novel sensors for water quality monitoring technologies on drinking water from PWS in Scotland, which can subsequently influence social attitude and behaviour to drinking water safety. We hypothesise that monitoring technologies will increase user’s perception of health risks and empower end users to mitigate such risks.

• Building on preliminary data, further develop/adapt sensor technology and link with machine learning for rapid use in PWS.
• Install/implement monitoring technologies at PWS in Scotland that represent a range of water typologies, treatment systems and catchment types; and compare the technologies with standard lab and regulatory methods.
• Conduct focus groups and interviews with potential users of the technologies to evaluate impact on perceptions and behaviours around water supplies as a result of the technologies and evaluate possible barriers to uptake of the technologies and make management recommendations.
• Characterise biological, physio-chemical, and management risk factors in the contributing drinking water catchment area to determine potential sources and influx of FIOs; develop statistical and risk-based modelling tools linking the above risk-factors (including behavioural) with potential mitigation strategies for decision support.

The prospective student will be given the opportunity to steer the project from the outset, and will benefit from the interdisciplinary expertise of the supervisors and access to a range of state-of-the art facilities.

Knowledge of some the following is desirable: Matlab, Python, Java and/or C++; biomedical optics; qPCR; Baysian Belief Networks.

Applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD to the primary supervisor well before the final submission deadline. Applicants must send a completed application form (available here:, their Curriculum Vitae and a covering letter to the primary supervisor by the final submission deadline of 8th January.

Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. This project will be hosted at Heriot-Watt University. Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on 11th or 12th February 2021.


References: 1.; 2.; 3. Akoumianaki et al., 2018. Review of monitoring techniques and sampling strategies to identify the most significant sources of faecal indicator organisms within a catchment, CREW Report 2018_14; 4. Doria 2010. Factors influencing public perception of drinking water quality, Water Policy 12:1-19.

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