New Degree in Sustainable Water Management

Launched by the Tufts Institute for the Environment, the one-year interdisciplinary master’s program begins in September

woman taking meaurements of water along creek, with laptop nearby

The Tufts Institute of the Environment has launched an innovative master’s degree program to prepare students to take the lead solving complex global water issues.

The Master of Science in Sustainable Water Management is a unique, interdisciplinary twelve-month program that draws on university-wide expertise to prepare graduates for leadership positions in the nongovernmental, public, and private sectors. It starts in September.

Conceived and developed by the Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), the graduate program is a collaboration among several schools at Tufts; the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy will coordinate its administration and admissions.

TIE director Linda Abriola noted that advanced studies related to water management in the past have largely grown out of an engineering or natural resources department. But water is so intertwined with economic, social, cultural, and political factors, it cannot simply be considered the domain of science, she said. She anticipates that the Sustainable Water Management program will appeal to students with some work experience and who are ready for highly focused, fast-track professional development.

“They may not have had science or engineering experience, but they will likely be committed to sustainable water practices and ready to move into a role where they could coordinate and lead teams of scientists and engineers,” she said.  

The Sustainable Water Management degree builds on the university’s nearly fifteen-year leadership in water-focused initiatives. TIE in 2004 launched an interdisciplinary graduate certificate program, Water: Systems, Science, and Society. In 2010, Tufts introduced a Ph.D. in water diplomacy as part of the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering’s Water Diplomacy program.

The new program offers four tracks—encompassing such areas as urban water infrastructure, the water-energy-food nexus, water diplomacy, and international development and emergency response—that draw on complementary skills and experiences of faculty.

Case in point: Daniele Lantagne, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has water treatment experience in more than forty countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. She will co-lead the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services in International and Humanitarian Response track, along with Daniel Maxwell, Henry J. Leir Professor in Food Security at the Friedman School, and David Gute, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.   

“We need professionals today who can respond to a whole suite of concerns, including shelter, protection, and education—water and sanitation are critical needs within that humanitarian context,” Lantagne said. That’s most evident in current refugee crises that can leave migrants with little or no access to clean water or proper sanitation, she said.

“The question is not just how to build a better water system, but how do you reach that population?” she said. “What’s allowable by the government? Having an interdisciplinary degree is an important step to providing the skills to individuals who go and work in these contexts.”

The new degree program comes as concerns mount about the impact of climate change on water and food supplies. According to the United Nations, about two-thirds of the global population already lives in areas that experience water scarcity at least one month a year. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the problem will intensify with climate change, which could affect rain patterns and cause more frequent droughts.

Human population growth, in the meantime, continues to put increasing demands on water supplies. In poorer nations, said Lantagne, cities are growing so fast that they cannot construct the infrastructure to provide clean water and sanitation. She cited recent news reports that taps will run dry in Cape Town, South Africa, by April.

Projections like that, Lantagne said, emphasize the importance of the new Tufts program. “One of Tufts’ greatest strengths is the breadth of its schools,” she said. “This program, by looking at how we can better manage water for future generations, brings them all together. I don’t think that could be done anywhere else.”

Applications for round one of admissions for Fall 2018 are due February 1; round two applications are due April 1. More application information and dates of information webinars are available here.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at

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