N. M. Tech Part of New Water Resources Center, Aug. 11, 1999

New Mexico Tech is one of several universities and institutions that are part of a new Science and Technology Center (STC) that will develop ways to efficiently manage water resources in semi-arid regions. The University of Arizona in Tucson is the lead institution in the $16 million, multi-university center.

Professor Soroosh Sorooshian, of UA Hydrology and Water Resources, will direct the new National Science Foundation (NSF) center. It will include researchers and students from several colleges at UA, as well as those from several other universities, government agencies and private institutions.

The world's water resources are under extreme stress in many semi-arid regions because of rapid development, variations in climate and disruptions caused by long-term climate change. Sustaining these resources through the 21st century will depend on correctly managing water resources systems, Sorooshian says.

Developing water management strategies demands integrating and accommodating a wide variety of needs, both environmental and human. To do this, the STC will set research priorities by regularly bringing together researchers and those who use the water resources.

STC researchers plan to rapidly transfer what they learn to those who can apply it to water resources management. Among the users now active in the center are the Salt River Project in Arizona, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in New Mexico and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. As the research program evolves, other domestic and international water users will be added to this list.

Since a large number of researchers from diverse locations are involved, the center will be able to investigate larger, more complex problems than can be addressed by individuals or small groups working in a local area.

Center researchers plan to study riparian systems and the various aspects of water and salinity balance on a basin-wide scale. Then these results will be used to develop basin-scale hydrologic and chemical models.

Social science research will focus on demographic and economic shifts, changing legal structures and economic markets for water. It also will look at changing public attitudes toward sustainable water management.

Ultimately, the center will develop numerical models and decision-making tools that will allow users to optimally manage limited water supplies. In addition, the STC will develop educational programs for use in science education programs.

The center aims to educate a new generation of water resources managers, giving them an interdisciplinary perspective and new technological skills and tools.

The $16 million will fund center operations for five years.

Participating academic institutions include:

  • New Mexico Tech
  • Penn State University
  • The University of California (UCLA, Scripps and Riverside)
  • Columbia University Biosphere 2
  • The University of New Mexico
  • Arizona State University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • The Desert Research Institute
  • The Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologia del Agua
  • The Instituto el Medro Ambiente y Desanollo Sustenable del Estado de Sonora.

Participating government institutions include:

  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • The U.S. Geological Survey
  • The Agricultural Research Service
  • The Army Corps of Engineers
  • The International Boundary and Water Commission

Participating private, non-profit organizations include: World Laboratory of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Formation of the center involved a rigorous review process. NSF received more than 280 pre-proposals when it called for ideas for new centers in 1997. Of these, 44 were invited to submit full proposals. After further review, 16 teams were selected for on-site visits earlier this year. Of those, five were selected as Science and Technology Centers.

These are potentially ten-year centers. They will be reviewed for additional funding after five years.

Program guidelines allow funding up to $20 million for each center, but the final awards are subject to negotiation between NSF and the lead institutions. In addition, in-kind contributions such as matching funds and equipment brought to the centers by partners can raise their total value well beyond the monetary awards.

NSF established the Science and Technology Center program in 1987 in response to a presidential commitment to fund important fundamental research activities that also create educational opportunities. The program also is designed to encourage technology transfer and provide innovative approaches to interdisciplinary research challenges. These are the first new STC awards in eight years.

****EDITOR'S NOTE: Soroosh Sorooshian can be contacted at 520-621-1661, or by e-mail to soroosh@hwr.arizona.edu. Professor Sorooshian will be in Australia from August 1 to 31. To obtain his e-mail address or Australian phone number, contact Ed Stiles, 520-621-3754, stiles@u.arizona.edu.****