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Richard G. Luthy

Silas H. Palmer Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Director, Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing Urban Water Infrastructure

Dick Luthy is the Silas H. Palmer Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, and Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment. His area of teaching and research is environmental engineering and water quality. He directed the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for re-inventing the nation’s urban water infrastructure ( from 2011-22. His researchpromotes new strategies for urban water systems to achieve more sustainable solutions - especially in regions experiencing chronic water shortages and vulnerabilities to cycles of very low precipitation like the American west and southwest. In related work, his research investigates cost-effective and natural approaches for sediment restoration. 

Professor Luthy is a past chair of the National Research Council's Water Science and Technology Board and he has served on various NRC committees. He is a former President of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a registered professional engineer, a board certified environmental engineer, and Water Environment Federation Fellow.

Research Focus

My group works on environmental engineering and water quality with an emphasis on both engineered physicochemical processes and natural treatment processes. We seek to apply this knowledge to sustainable, systems-level solutions for water reuse and water quality management. Broadly, this work addresses the Re-invention of the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt, The research also includes efficient management of contaminants in sediments in bays and lakes. Our research studies the fate of organic compounds and interdisciplinary approaches to understand the behavior and bioavailability of organic contaminants with application to water quality criteria and new management practices, and the implications for efficient water reuse and ecological benefits.  

We study the behavior of so-called emerging contaminants, like perfluorochemicals and compounds in consumer products and residuals from treatment processes, as well as legacy contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], and organochlorine pesticides like DDT.  

Under ReNUWIt, my research group has studied the motivation and hindrances for water reuse in Northern California and progress towards achieving statewide goals for water reuse. We are studying natural water infrastructure systems, including a case study of water reuse for ecosystem improvements considering both monetized and non-monetized benefits. We are investigating the role of filter feeding organisms to remove residual trace organic contaminants from wastewater and how this concept might be employed in wetland treatment systems of the future. Strategies for stormwater capture and reuse involve study of geo-engineering techniques to remove contaminants and how distributed stormwater capture and reuse systems might be better managed. 

With respect to sediments, we are working on the PCB problem in San Francisco Bay and organochlorine pesticides and PAH contamination in other near-shore regions. We study interactions among contaminants, sediments, and benthic biota to understand the bioavailability of organic contaminants and gain insights on approaches to control contaminant bioavailability and improve water and sediment quality. Our field and laboratory research suggests that adding sorbent carbonaceous material to sediment is potentially effective for in situ sediment treatment. 

Our work on the environmental behavior and fate of organic contaminants in water and sediments provides stronger scientific and technological underpinnings for advancing water reuse strategies and addressing legacy environmental problems. However, how we apply this knowledge to practical, working solutions requires interdisciplinary approaches and partnerships. Thus, our studies on advancing water reuse and environmental management leads us to systems-level approaches that involve collaborations among environmental engineers and scientists, and social scientists and planners, working together with managers, regulators, and non-governmental organizations.

Teaching Interests

Professor Luthy teaches courses on environmental engineering and water quality. A graduate course on movement and fate of organic compounds [CEE 270] sets up a 'big picture' view of how to assess the behavior of organic contaminants in natural and engineered water systems. The course asks how we might prevent problems resulting from compounds like chlorinated solvents, pesticides, and methyl tertiary-butyl ether through better understanding of the relationship between compound properties and environmental fate. Another graduate course [CEE 271A] examines the physical and chemical treatment processes employed in water quality engineering with a focus on drinking water quality. This course explores how water treatment process alternatives are changing in response to new perceptions of water quality and public health, and describes basic methods for designing physical/chemical treatment processes and assessing their performance.


BS, Chemical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA, l967
MS, Ocean Engineering, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, 1969
MS, Civil Engineering (Environmental Engineering), University of California, Berkeley, CA, 1974
Ph.D., Civil Engineering (Environmental Engineering), University of California, Berkeley, CA 1976
Hon. Sci. D. (Environmental Engineering), Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY 2005


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473 Via Ortega, Rm 191
Stanford, CA 94305