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Water & Environment

Water & Environment

In many areas of the United States and multiple regions of the world, competing demands for fresh water outweigh sustainable supply. Water issues increasingly limit economic development, impact interdependent infrastructure (such as energy and agriculture), and are a fundamental source of conflict. The primary objectives of the Sandia Water Initiative are to:

  • Increase the safety, security and sustainability of water infrastructure through the development of advanced technologies that create new water supplies
  • Decrease demand through water-use efficiency
  • Provide decision-informing tools to the institutions responsible for balancing supply and demand

In order to achieve our objectives, we develop science-based, engineering solutions, guided by robust understanding of natural and human engineered systems.

The focus areas for the Water Security program are below. To learn more about each program, click on the links below.

Water Infrastructure Security

Sandia’s Water Infrastructure Security Program has the experience, expertise and resources to address the demands of protecting our nation’s critical water infrastructures. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are able to leverage over 60 years of experience in safeguarding complex systems and focus that research base on our nation’s infrastructure to solve our most challenging water security challenges.

Water Treatment

Sandia applies its internationally recognized capabilities in materials science, systems engineering, and waste management programs to the challenges of water treatment. Unique laboratory and testing capabilities, expertise in materials and nanoscience, modeling and high performance computing, and advanced manufacturing enables us to make significant contributions to solving water treatment problems. Sandia communicates extensively with water users, suppliers, and regulators to best understand the issues and to optimize proposed solutions.

Water, Energy and Natural Resource Systems

We support long term planning and management of resources at the international, federal, state and regional levels through the development of decision support models and tools.  Because the interactions and interdependencies among multiple Earth systems over time are complex they can’t be well understood without computer simulations.  Models created by Sandia researchers allow stakeholders to conceptualize these complex systems and are a valuable tool for educating policy makers and the public on the complexities of resource management.


Katherine Klise


Amy Halloran


Vince Tidwell


United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Sandia National Laboratories partners with the United States Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect human health and the environment. Through a partnership with the EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC), Sandia developed a risk assessment methodology for assessing the vulnerability of the physical infrastructure of water systems in our nation’s largest cities after 9/11. Since then, Sandia has worked with EPA-NHSRC to develop a number of software tools for enhanced monitoring of water distribution networks and response to contamination events in these networks.

American Water Works Association

In a partnership between the American Water Works Association (Awwa) Research Foundation (AwwaRF) and Sandia National Laboratories, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) undertook a program in 2000 to improve security at water utilities across the United States. Sandia has also worked with AwwaRF (now the Water Research Foundation or WaterRF) to assess the impacts of water quality sensor precision and accuracy on the results of water quality event detection algorithms.

PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency

Through the use of Sandia’s CANARY event detection software, Singapore’s national water authority PUB has made a quantum leap in their utility’s practices to uncover water quality events. By partnering with Sandia, PUB has dramatically improved their ability to respond to water quality changes and allows them to arrest poor quality water before it reaches consumers. Ongoing work with PUB is focused on real time identification of contaminant source locations for grab sample data.

Texas A&M University

Dr. Carl Laird and his research group in the Chemical Engineering Department continue to work with us on computational tools for analysis of water distribution networks.  Current work being done at Texas A&M University is focused on efficient methods for solute transport in networks and optimization of sample locations during a contamination event.


How does a country whose water supply is as dispersed as the U.S. rapidly and accurately detect contamination of any of it, whether due to natural causes or terrorist activities? Sandia researchers, led by Sean McKenna working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Homeland Security Research Center, have developed award winning software that enables immediate contaminant detection by continuously analyzing signals from networked sensors for unusual responses.



A joint research team led by Susan Rempe of Sandia National Laboratories and researchers from the University of New Mexico have developed novel biomimetic membranes to purity water through reverse osmosis (RO) technology. These membranes will improve access to clean water, which may be the most important issue facing people worldwide because of its critical role in public health, agriculture and the production of energy.





Key Publications

View all water publications

Water Infrastructure Security


  • Murray, R., T.M. Haxton, R.J. JANKE, W.E. Hart, J. Berry AND C. Phillips. Sensor Network Design for Drinking Water Contamination Warning Systems: A Compendium of Research Results and Case Studies using the TEVA-SPOT- Report. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-09/141, 2010


  • The CANARY Guidance Document: US EPA 2010, Water Quality Event Detection Systems for Drinking Water Contamination Warning Systems: Development, Testing, and Application of CANARY, EPA/600/R-010/036, 91pp.
  • McKenna, S.A., E.D. Vugrin, D.B. Hart and R. Aumer, 2012, Multivariate trajectory clustering for false positive reduction in online event detection, ASCE Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Accepted for publication and available online, March, 3rd.
  • Sun et al., 2009, Joint Physical and Numerical Modeling of Water Distribution Networks, SAND2009-0323
  • (Vugrin et al., 2009) Vugrin, Eric, McKenna, SA, & Hart D, “Trajectory Clustering Approach for Reducing Water Quality Event False Alarms” Proceedings of the 2009, World Envi. & Water Resources Congress, Kansas City, MO. 2009.
  • (Hart et al., 2007) Hart, DB, McKenna, SA, Klise, KA, Cruz, VA & Wilson, MP, “CANARY: A water quality event detection algorithm development and testing tool”, Proceedings of ASCE World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2007, ASCE, Tampa FL. 2007.
  • (McKenna et al., 2007) McKenna, SA, Hart, DB, Klise, KA, Cruz, VA & Wilson, MP, “Event detection from water quality time series”, Proceedings of ASCE World Environmental and Water Resources Congress (EWRI) 2007, ASCE, Tampa FL. 2007.
  • (Klise & McKenna, 2006a) Klise, KA & McKenna, SA, “Multivariate applications for detecting anomalous water quality”, Proceedings of the 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis (WDSA) Symposium, ASCE, Cincinnati OH. 2006.
  • (Klise & McKenna, 2006b) Klise, KA & McKenna, SA, “Water quality change detection: multivariate algorithms”, Proceedings of SPIE Defense and Security Symposium 2006, International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), Orlando FL. 2006.
  • (McKenna et al., 2006) McKenna, SA, Klise, KA & Wilson, MP, “Testing water quality change detection algorithms”, Proceedings of the 8th Annual Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium (WDSA), ASCE, Cincinnati OH. 2006.
  • (Hall et al., 2007) Hall, J, Zaffiro, AD, Marx, RB, Kefauver, PC, Krishnan, ER, Haught, RC & Herrmann, JG, “On-line water quality parameters as indicators of distribution system contamination”, Journal of the American Water Works Association, vol 99, no. 1, pp. 66-77. 2007.
  • (US EPA, 2005) “Water Sentinel Online Water Quality Monitoring as an Indicator of Drinking Water Contamination”, EPA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 817-D-05-002. 2005.

WST (Water Security Toolkit):

  • Mann, A.V., S.A. McKenna, W.E. Hart and C.D. Laird, 2012, Real-Time Inversion in Large-Scale Water Networks Using Discrete Measurements, Computers and Chemical Engineering, pp. 143-151, doi:10.1016/j.compchemeng.2011.08.001

Staff Biographies

Photo of Cynthia A Phillips
Cynthia A Phillips
Senior Scientist Sandia National LaboratoriesDiscrete Math Complex Systems Organization

Research Interests: Combinatorial optimization. Algorithm design and analysis, parallel computation, scheduling, network and infrastructure surety, sensor placement, wireless networks, integer programming, graph algorithms, vehicle routing, computational biology, experimental algorithmics, complex network analysis, cybersecurity

Education and Training

Ph.d. in Computer Science 1990
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dissertation: Theoretical and Experimental Analyses of Parallel Combinatorial Algorithms

Selected Publications

R. Murray, T. Haxton, W.E. Hart, and C.A. Phillips, “Real-world case studies for sensor network design of drinking water contamination systems,” Handbook of Water and Wastewater Systems Protection, editors: R.M. Clark, S. Hakim, and A, Ostfeld, Series: Protecting Critical Infrastructure, Springer, New York, 2011, pp. 319-348.

J. Berry, R. Carr, W. Hart, V. Leung, C. Phillips, J.-P. Watson, “Designing contamination warning systems for municipal water networks using imperfect sensors,” Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Vol. 135, No. 4, pp. 253-263, July/August, 2009.

R. Murray, W.E. Hart, C.A. Phillips, J. Berry, E. Boman, R.D. Carr, L.A. Riesen, J.-P. Watson, T. Baranowski, G. Gray, J. Herrmann, R. Janke, T.N. Taxon, J. Uber, K. Morley, “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses Operations Research to Reduce Drinking Water Contamination Risks,” Edelman finalist paper, Interfaces, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 57-68, January-February 2009.

Ostfeld et. al. (one of 34 authors), “The battle of the water sensor networks (BWSN): a design challenge for engineers and algorithms,” Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Vol. 134, No. 6, November/December 2008, pp. 556-568.

J. Berry, W. Hart, C. Phillips, J. Uber, and J.-P. Watson, “Sensor placement in municipal water networks with temporal integer programming models,” Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Vol. 132, No. 4, pp. 218-24, July/August 2006.

Next up R. Carr

Next up Berry Fleischer

Murray, Regan, William E. Hart, Cynthia A. Phillips, Jonathan Berry, Erik Boman, Lee Ann Riesen, Jean-Paul Watson, Terranna Haxton, George Gray, Jonathan Herrmann, Robert Janke, Thomas Taxon, James Uber, Kevin Morley, “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses Operations Research to Reduce Drinking Water Contamination Risks,” Journal Article, JOURNALINFORMS Interfaces, Accepted/Published January 2009.

W. Hart, R. Murray, C. Phillips, “Minimize Impact or Maximize Benefit: the Role of Objective Function in Approximately Optimizing Sensor Placement for Municipal Water Distribution Networks,” World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, 2011.

D. Hart, W. Hart, S. McKenna, R. Murray, C. Phillips, “Integrating event detection system operating characteristics into sensor placement optimization,” 12th Water Distribution Systems Analysis Symposium, September, 2010.

J. Berry, E. Boman, C. Phillips, L.A. Riesen, “Low-memory Lagrangian relaxation methods for sensor placement in municipal water networks,” World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, 2008.

W.E. Hart, J.W. Berry, R. Murray, C. Phillips, L.A. Riesen, J.-P. Watson, “The TEVA-SPOT toolkit for drinking water contaminant warning system design,” World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, 2008.

J.W. Berry, R.D. Carr. W.E. Hart, C.A. Phillips, “Scalable water network sensor placement via aggregation,” World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, 2007.

Jon Berry, Erik Lauer, Henry Lin, Cynthia Phillips, “Scheduling manual sampling for contamination detection in municipal water networks,” Symposium on Water Distribution Systems Analysis, 2006.

Categories: Water Security Program
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