Re-inventing America's urban water infrastructure
GOLDEN, Colo., July 19, 2011 — America's cities face a looming water crisis, driven by climate change, growing population and a crumbling infrastructure. Recognizing the critical importance of this issue, the National Science Foundation has selected a partnership of four U.S. universities to form an Engineering Research Center (ERC) that addresses this challenge by developing new, sustainable ways to manage urban water. The initial grant is $18.5 million spread over five years with additional millions to come in the subsequent five-year period following in-progress reviews.
Engineering Research Centers are interdisciplinary hubs established at U.S. universities where researchers work in close partnership with industry to pursue strategic advances in complex engineered systems and technologies. The Urban Water ERC is led by Stanford University
and includes researchers trained in fields including environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics and law at Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines
, and New Mexico State University.
Concerted effort, grand scale
"Urban water represents a monumental challenge for the United States and it deserves concerted research and thinking on the grandest scale," said project leader Richard Luthy
, a professor of civil and environmental engineering
and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment
at Stanford. "We're clearing the slate. Nothing is being taken for granted. We'll be developing new strategies for replacing crumbling infrastructure, new technologies for water management and treatment, new ways to recover energy and water, and more – much of it yet to be determined."
One example is better integration of natural systems as part of urban water infrastructure to improve water quality and storage while simultaneously enhancing habitats and the urban landscape.
The partnership of these specific universities is as symbolic as it is pragmatic. The Urban Water Center is based in the American West where the effects of shifting water resources will be felt most acutely, but also where much of the leading thinking on water challenges is taking place.
"These four universities form a powerful collaboration," Luthy added. "Each has its particular strengths, and each is working on problems related to how we use and reuse water, and how we design and manage our urban water resources in the face of some daunting outlooks."
Here’s how Colorado School of Mines fits into the partnership:
- Mines will provide its expertise in water reclamation and reuse, subsurface modeling and contaminant attenuation. Mines also has unique water reclamation testbeds on campus that will be used in research.
- Mines faculty will serve as the research director and education director for the ERC.
- Over the next five years, Mines will receive $5 million with the State providing $400,000 per year through the Colorado Higher Education Competitive Research Authority (CHECRA).
- The CHECRA provided critical matching funds that allowed Mines to participate in this prestigious partnership and brought a large federal grant to the state.
"Our various test platforms in California, Colorado and New Mexico allow us to try new ideas at realistic scale and in close collaboration with industry and practitioner partners," said Jörg Drewes, a professor at Colorado School of Mines and director of research for the center. "This allows us to demonstrate new approaches and move promising innovations from university labs towards commercial reality."
"At this level of collaboration we can achieve much more than any one individual campus could alone," said Professor Nirmala Khandan, a co-investigator on the project and leader of the center's work at New Mexico State University.
To the mix of leading universities, the Urban Water Engineering Research Center will add the support of a number of industrial partners that will extend the reach of the ERC's programs and provide a critical real-world aspect to the center's work.
"The Engineering Research Center's multi-disciplinary approach can transform the way we manage our urban water systems in the 21st century for the betterment of both cities and the environment," said Mike Kavanaugh, a principal with Geosyntec Consultants whose company provides specialized services in storm-water management, water-quality modeling and geotechnical services to municipal clients in the United States.
"We look forward to having an active role in the ERC's research to help put innovations into practice," added Megan Plumlee, a scientist with the Advanced Technologies Group at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, a company that has completed more than $1 billion in recycled-water planning and design work over the past decade.
The research of the Urban Water ERC will follow a three-pronged approach that combines fundamental investigations and applied research in engineered systems, natural systems and urban water management.
"Working with partners in industry will transform the center’s groundbreaking research into practical and sustainable solutions," said Luthy. "Achieving technical innovation and new ways of doing business requires the ERC team to tackle the full range of economic, policy and social factors at play in water resources decision-making and management."
An additional mission of the Urban Water ERC is to inspire future engineers through extensive education programs at all of the participating institutions. According to Professor Luthy, this will yield a pipeline of well-prepared students of diverse backgrounds who are ready and eager to pursue water-related degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. The goal, ultimately, is a new cohort of leaders who will transform America's water infrastructure. This effort also includes important outreach programs aimed at students of all ages, from kindergarteners through adults and with special outreach to under-represented children in Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander and African American communities.
"I, for one, am confident we can meet our water challenges," said Luthy. "And the establishment of this Engineering Research Center is a great first step to solving the biggest problems."
Engineering Research Center on Re-inventing Urban Water Infrastructure
The National Science Foundation
Colorado School of Mines
Public Relations Specialist
Colorado School of Mines
Public Relations Director
Colorado School of Mines