Document Type


Date of Original Version



Civil and Environmental Engineering


It is inherently difficult to plan water systems for a future that is non-predictive. This paper introduces a novel perspective for the design and operation of potable water systems under increasing water quality volatility (e.g., a relatively rapid and unpredicted deviation from baseline water quality). Increased water quality volatility and deep uncertainty stress water systems, confound design decisions, and increase the risk of decreased water system performance. Recent emphasis on resilience in drinking water treatment has partly addressed this issue, but still establishes an adversarial relationship with change. An antifragile system benefits from volatile change. By incorporating antifragility, water systems may move beyond resilience and improve performance with extreme events and other changes, rather than survive, or fail and quickly recover. Using examples of algal blooms, wildfires, and the COVID-19 pandemic, this work illustrates fragility, resilience, and antifragility within physicochemical process design including clarification, adsorption and disinfection. Methods for increasing antifragility, both individual process options and new system design tools, are discussed. Novel physicochemical processes with antifragile characteristics include ferrate preoxidation and magnetic iron (nano)particles. New design tools that allow for systematic evaluation of antifragile opportunities include artificial neural networks and virtual jar or pilot “stress testing”. Incorporating antifragile characteristics represents a trade-off with capital and/or operating cost. We present a real options analysis approach to considering costs in the context of antifragile design decisions. Adopting this antifragile perspective will help ensure water system improved performance during extreme events and a general increase in volatility.

Publication Title

Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology