Q&A with Dr. Elisabeth Krueger

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Water is a fundamental resource, underpinning all drivers of growth. Despite its critical role in human health, energy generation, agricultural productivity, and manufacturing, water is often poorly managed, especially across sectors. Climate and land use changes, rapid urbanization and population growth are putting additional pressures on this management challenge. Elisabeth Krueger (PhD 2019) focused her doctoral research on developing a framework to assess the complex dynamics of coupled social-ecological-technological systems and provide insights to help balance the security, resilience and sustainability dimensions of urban water supply systems.


When I started out with my PhD, I was seeking to understand how different cities around the world respond to shocks and the pressures of local and global change. To focus my research, I decided to look at this question through a water lens, as water is one of the critical resources determining human livelihoods. Why and how do cities achieve urban water supply security and resilience? What are the reasons for water insecurity? Different scientific disciplines have vastly different answers to this question: A hydrologist will respond by saying it’s a matter of water availability, an economist will say it’s a matter of financial resources availability, a sociologist will say it’s a matter of appropriate management, etc. And while there was some recognition of the complexity of the problem, there was no method available to quantify urban water supply security holistically. So, to answer these questions objectively, and to be able to compare the level of water security in different cities around the world, an integrated approach was needed. This is what became the central topic of my PhD research.


Personally, this research was very inspiring, because I got to work in many different fields, I got to travel to different places around the world, and to interact with many different people. My research combined theory and practice in several areas, including urban infrastructure functioning, water resources management, water policy, and financial planning, as well as adaptive capacity of urban communities who have to cope with a lack of services. I had the chance to work with decision-makers and managers in the cities of Amman (Jordan) and Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), local researchers and professionals, and to teach students at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. My research gave me insight into the global challenges we are facing today, including rapid climate change and the impacts of increasing urbanization. I also learned a breadth of technical skills that are relevant in many fields of science, and that allow me to understand deeper questions of the underlying mechanisms that lead to some of the global patterns and dynamics of urban systems.


It is important to understand the complexity of the challenges we are facing today, and that they cannot be solved through siloed approaches. While specialist knowledge is needed, we also need to understand the interdependence of systems and processes across all sectors and scales – from local to global. And we must understand that seemingly straightforward engineering problems, such as the water supply for a city, has irreducible uncertainties due to the complex nature of urban systems. Therefore, rather than siloed engineering and fail-safe design, we need to ensure that people are considered as part of the urban system – as people must respond when designs fail. They are what determines whether a system can respond resiliently. The way people decide to design, and to respond in the case of failure, determines whether a system can be sustainable into the future.


Since 2015, the PCCRC has provided up to 2 incentive awards each year to recruit outstanding master’s or doctoral-seeking students interested in interdisciplinary climate change-related research to Purdue. In March 2019, the first recipient of a PCCRC incentive award, Elisabeth Krueger, defended her dissertation work titled, “Coupled Natural-Human-Engineered Systems: An Urban Water Perspective on the Sustainable Management of Security and Resilience.” She is now a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University.



Krueger, E., Borchardt, D., Jawitz, J.W., and P.S.C. Rao. (2020). Balancing security, resilience, and sustainability of urban water supply systems in a desirable operating space. Environmental Research Letters https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab6c2d/pdf

Krueger, E., Borchardt, D., Jawitz, J.W., Klammler, H., Yang, S., Zischg, J., and P.S.C. Rao. (2019). Resilience dynamics of urban water supply security and potential of tipping points. Earth’s Future 7:1167-1191 https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1029/2019EF001306

Krueger, E., Rao, P>S.C., and D. Borchardt. (2019). Quantifying urban water supply security under global change. Global Environmental Change 56:66-74 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.03.009

Krueger, E., Klinkhamer, C., Urich, C., Zhan, X., and P.S.C. Rao. (2017). Generic patterns in the evolution of urban water networks: Evidence from a large Asian City. Physical Review E 95, 032312 DOI:10.1103/PhysRevE.95.032312

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