Environmental Management

, Volume 57, Issue 6, pp 1204–1216 | Cite as

Barriers to Innovation in Urban Wastewater Utilities: Attitudes of Managers in California

  • Michael KiparskyEmail author
  • Barton H. ThompsonJr.
  • Christian Binz
  • David L. Sedlak
  • Lars Tummers
  • Bernhard Truffer


In many regions of the world, urban water systems will need to transition into fundamentally different forms to address current stressors and meet impending challenges—faster innovation will need to be part of these transitions. To assess the innovation deficit in urban water organizations and to identify means for supporting innovation, we surveyed wastewater utility managers in California. Our results reveal insights about the attitudes towards innovation among decision makers, and how perceptions at the level of individual managers might create disincentives for experimentation. Although managers reported feeling relatively unhindered organizationally, they also spend less time on innovation than they feel they should. The most frequently reported barriers to innovation included cost and financing; risk and risk aversion; and regulatory compliance. Considering these results in the context of prior research on innovation systems, we conclude that collective action may be required to address underinvestment in innovation.


Innovation Wastewater Decision-making Risk Technology 



We thank survey respondents, who remain anonymous in accordance with UC Berkeley’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects. We are grateful to Bobbi Larson and Adam Link for feedback and help with implementing the survey. Gary Darling, Bob Whitley, Kevin Hardy, and Mike Connor provided useful input. Amie Simmons and Luke Sherman provided capable research assistance. Partial funding was provided by National Science Foundation Grant 28139880-50542-C to the ReNUWIt Engineering Research Center, by the Swiss NSF, and by the Wheeler Water Institute.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wheeler Water Institute, School of LawUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Stanford Law School and Stanford Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Harvard Kennedy School of GovernmentCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Civil & Environmental EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  5. 5.Utrecht School of GovernanceUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Department of Public AdministrationErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Environmental Social Science DepartmentSwiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)DubendorfSwitzerland
  8. 8.Faculty of GeosciencesUniversity of Utrecht UtrechtThe Netherlands
  9. 9.Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt)National Science FoundationStanfordUSA

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