The National Science Foundation has awarded a group of Utah higher educational institutions and related organizations 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, creates iUTAH, which stands for innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-Sustainability.
iUTAH is an interdisciplinary effort among researchers from Utah State University, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and two dozen other Utah institutions of higher education, government agencies and industry and non-profit partners. EPSCoR partners in Alaska and Wyoming are also collaborating. The Utah EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Office coordinated the multi-partner effort, with the support of USTAR.
"Utah is faring better than most states due in part to unprecedented partnerships in all aspects of our economy," said Governor Gary R. Herbert. "This public-private collaboration among so many educational, industry and government partners in tackling a key factor in long-term economic growth and quality of life is another example of our state's can-do approach."
The state's largest EPSCoR award to date, the grant provides $4 million per year for five years to fund the program. iUTAH will explore how population growth, changing climate and land use affect the state's water sustainability.
iUTAH will strategically invest in projects aimed at monitoring and improving state water usage, while informing Utah residents of sustainable practices, and educating future water scientists and managers. The program also will promote long-term collaboration among Utah institutions and provide interdisciplinary research opportunities to students and faculty from kindergarten through postgraduate school. Todd Crowl, professor in USU's Ecology Center and Department of Watershed Sciences, is the principal investigator on the project and NSF EPSCoR director for Utah.
"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 how we understand and respond to changing water resource availability in Utah."
As most of Utah's precipitation occurs as snow, the project will focus on how changing mountain snowpacks affect water supplies for the state's growing communities. Specifically, iUTAH focuses on three main areas related to water usage: watershed, infrastructure and technology. Utah's natural watersheds will serve as 'living labs,' with on-site observatories developed along the Wasatch Front. Statewide iUTAH partners will collect data from sites for evaluation.
Planned project facilities include a green-infrastructure research facility featuring controlled experimental gardens to test engineering innovations to improve Utah's water infrastructure, runoff and water quality in an urban environment. The research facility will also include a centralized computing facility for data integration, storage and sharing.
iUTAH will develop "Environmental Situation Rooms," designed to explore, visualize and analyze data and model simulation from all focus areas, at the U of U's Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City and the Logan USTAR campus at USU.
Central aims of iUTAH are to build a statewide community of water scholars and foster education and outreach programs on water quality and usage.
"Education, outreach and diversity enhancement are key components of the EPSCoR program," said Rita Teutonico, state EPSCoR director and iUTAH associate director. "iUTAH has representatives from across the State as members of the EPSCoR teams who will ensure we integrate our research and education efforts, as well as expand the diversity of the science and technology enterprise in Utah."
USTAR, the state's technology economic development initiative, provided initial funding for staff to support the collaborative application, Teutonico said. "I am delighted to take over state EPSCoR leadership from Suzanne Winters, after her dedicated work for the past 12 months."
Initiated by a National Science Board resolution in 1978 and established by the National Science Foundation in 2006, EPSCoR is an experimental, federally funded state-based capacity-building program aimed at stimulating research and development in states receiving lesser amounts of NSF funding. Utah is among 27 states, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, identified as EPSCoR states. Utah EPSCoR was established in 2009.
For a list of iUtah participating organizations, visit http://www.utah.gov/ustar/documents/193.pdf.