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NSF provides $20 million to strengthen Utah's research infrastructure


Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012


small stream in a urban landscape
USU will oversee multi-university effort to manage and protect state's water resources, including urban water use.
Utah EOSCoR logo

The National Science Foundation has awarded Utah a five-year, $20 million competitive grant to help manage and protect one of the state’s most valuable and scarce resources, water.

 

The grant funds a statewide effort to assist in building the human and research infrastructure needed to sustainably manage Utah’s waters. The award, which went into effect July 1, 2012, creates iUTAH, which stands for innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-Sustainability.

 

“Utah State University is excited to be leading this initiative to strengthen the research infrastructure across the State,” said Stan Albrecht, president of USU. “The results from iUTAH will have a dramatic impact on the how we understand and respond to the changing water resource availability in Utah.”

 

This is the largest Utah EPSCoR award to date. Since Utah EPSCoR was established three years ago, the program has provided funding to strengthen science and engineering facilities throughout Utah and to develop high performance computer modeling and data storage infrastructure.

 

The iUTAH program is a major undertaking to explore how population growth, changing climate and land use affect water sustainability.

 

“Utah’s population will at least double in the next two decades, with most of this growth occurring along the narrow Wasatch Range,” said Todd Crowl, principal investigator of iUTAH and NSF EPSCoR director for Utah. “Growth is expected to generate a significant increase in water demand that will need to be addressed through water transfers, infrastructure investments and efficiency programs.”

 

Because most of Utah’s precipitation occurs as snow, snowmelt is relied upon to fill reservoirs in the state for the year’s water usage. However, certain factors, such as airborne dust, can affect the water supply.

 

“Aside from potential changes to precipitation form and timing, climate and land-use associated shifts in vegetation can affect surface water yields from Utah’s mountains,” said Michelle Baker, professor in the Department of Biology and co-principal investigator of iUTAH. “Other concerns iUTAH will study are effects of urban emissions and dust deposition on surface water quality.  All these could have important ramifications for our water supply.”

 

iUTAH will involve several activities to monitor and improve the state’s water usage. Program researchers will develop on-site observatories along the Wasatch Front, build a community of water scholars throughout the state and integrate education and outreach programs on water quality and usage.

 

“Outreach is a key component of our EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement project,” said Rita Teutonico, iUTAH associate director. “It’s important to discover changes that we can make to better safeguard our limited water supply, but we also have to involve stakeholders in the process of making informed decisions. That’s how we can create a tangible impact in the state.”

 

iUTAH focuses on three main areas related to water usage: watershed, infrastructure and technology. Utah’s natural watershed will serve as “living labs,” involving statewide iUTAH partners in data collection and observation. At the watershed sites, water balance and water quality will be measured and its sustainability will be evaluated.

 

Because water in the area has long been used for irrigated agriculture and to meet the needs of growing urban populations, understanding the impacts of urbanization and climate change on water availability will require the full participation of social scientists and engineers.

 

“The iUTAH project was designed to build new interdisciplinary teams with the combined expertise to understand the complex interactions of climate and watershed processes with human water decisions and different types of built water infrastructure,” said Douglas Jackson-Smith, professor of sociology at Utah State and another co-principal investigator. “As a result, our scientific models will be more realistic and better able to capture the effects of urbanization and alternative water management policies.”

 

In addition to that, a green-infrastructure research facility, consisting of controlled experimental gardens and buildings, will be built. The facility is designed to test engineering innovations to improve Utah’s water infrastructure, runoff and water quality in the urban environment.

 

The coordination of these activities through a centralized cyber infrastructure network will provide an integrated data system for storing, sharing and publishing observations and outcomes.

 

“The iUTAH Data and Modeling Federation will ensure that all partners are linked across the state and that all data is interoperable,” said Jeff Horsburgh, research assistant professor at the Utah Water Research Laboratory at USU.

 

Technologies, including “Environmental Situation Rooms,” will be developed to explore, visualize and analyze data and model simulations from all focus areas. The rooms will be located at the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Logan USTAR campus.

 

“Although the application process for this grant was very competitive, we were able to focus our efforts and priorities to submit a compelling state-wide proposal to study water sustainability,” said Mark McLellan, USU vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

 

“This is an excellent opportunity for higher institutions in Utah to collaborate in an integrated research platform toward achieving a common goal and address the issue of sustaining economic development and,” he said.

 

EPSCoR was established by the National Science Board resolution in 1978. As a state-based, capacity-building program, it is targeted to states receiving lesser amounts of NSF research support funding to build sustainable capacity in educational institutions in those states.

 

Contacts: Rita Teutonico, Utah EPSCoR state director, (435) 797-2466, rita.teutonico@usu.edu

Michael O’Malley, USTAR, (801) 538-8879, momalley@utah.gov



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