Universities join forces to tackle urban water crises

With drought conditions putting a strain on resources throughout South Florida, FIU is investigating long-term solutions to water crises as part of a newly launched consortium.

The Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN) is comprised of 14 academic institutions and key partners across the United States. Colorado State University is leading the urban water initiative, which focuses on addressing the challenges that threaten urban water systems throughout the nation and around the world. Researchers hope to create technological, institutional, and management solutions that will help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

Water_drops_by_Ximeg_24.12.12-04-271x400The National Science Foundation has awarded the consortium a $12 million grant through its Sustainability Research Networks (SRN) program to support the initiative. FIU was awarded a second SRN grant this year as part of the national consortium dedicated to infrastructure resiliency in the face of weather extremes.

“It’s exciting that of the three Urban Sustainability Research Networks established this year, FIU will serve as a critical node for two,” said Evelyn Gaiser, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. “These grants are particularly timely as FIU is preparing to launch a center dedicated to sea level rise, which will serve as an outlet for much of the research, education and outreach involved in these and likely spin-off programs.”

According to the 2014 Global Risks Perception Survey by the World Economic Forum, water crises are the top global risk to the viability of communities throughout the world. From the crippling droughts and water shortages in the West to the devastating floods in the East and South, water systems in the United States have been impacted by changes in climate, demographics and other pressures. Reliance on water is why Americans express greater concern about threats to water than about any other environmental issue and why more than half of all Americans worry a great deal about it, according to latest Gallup poll of environmental concerns.

Extreme events and global climate change can have profound impacts on water security, shattering the most vulnerable communities and instilling enormous costs on governments and economies. Effective response to these challenges requires transitioning to both technological and management solutions that protect water systems from pressures and enhance their resilience.

The vision of UWIN is to create an enduring research network for integrated water systems and to cultivate champions of innovation for water-sensitive urban design and resilient cities. The integrated research, outreach, education and participatory approach of UWIN will produce a toolbox of sustainable solutions by simultaneously minimizing pressures, enhancing resilience to extreme events, and maximizing co-benefits. These benefits will reverberate across other systems, such as urban ecosystems, economies and arrangements for environmental justice and social equity.

The network will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated regions across the nation to serve as innovation centers, helping communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Strategic partnerships and engagement with other prominent U.S. and international networks will extend UWIN’s reach to more than 100 cities around the world. Key UWIN partners and collaborators include the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities.

This innovative and adaptive research approach will ultimately produce an Urban Water Sustainability Blueprint, outlining effects and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions for cities of all sizes. It will also provide steps and guidance for action based on the collective knowledge gained by the research and the collaborative approach of the SRN. The Blueprint will be rigorously vetted by regional stakeholders across the U.S. and the global urban water community.

In addition to FIU and Colorado State University, the consortium is comprised of:

  • Arizona State University
  • Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Howard University
  • Oregon State University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of California-Riverside
  • University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • University of Miami
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Pennsylvania

Tags: Biological Sciences × College of Arts & Sciences × School of Environment Arts and Society (SEAS) × sea level rise

This post “Universities join forces to tackle urban water crises” was originally published on FIU News.

Read more here about FIU’s second SRN grant this year as part of the national consortium dedicated to infrastructure resiliency in the face of weather extremes.

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