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Focusing on Water Sustainability

The Water Sustainability Initiative includes (clockwise from center): David Cwiertny (seated, back), Craig Just, Eric Tate, Kajsa Dalrymple, Adam Ward (seated, front), Tori Forbes, and Hans-Joachim Lehmler. Not pictured: Ananya Sen Gupta and Aaron Strong.

The Water Sustainability Initiative includes (clockwise from center): David Cwiertny (seated, back), Craig Just, Eric Tate, Kajsa Dalrymple, Adam Ward (seated, front), Tori Forbes, and Hans-Joachim Lehmler. Not pictured: Ananya Sen Gupta and Aaron Strong.

The Water Sustainability Initiative (WSI) brings together faculty affiliates from across the academic spectrum to work together to understand and address issues related to a subject that affects every man, woman, and child on the planet: water sustainability.

The University of Iowa’s Water Sustainability Initiative (WSI) began in 2009, when the university announced it would create a cluster of new faculty positions to advance research, education, and outreach on water sustainability. In 2013, the WSI faculty members who were not already faculty affiliates of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering (IIHR) joined the institute, while retaining primary appointments in their home departments.

IIHR Director Larry Weber says that the addition of the WSI affiliates and the creation of a new water sustainability focus area will position IIHR to retain its status as a global leader in fluids-related research, education, and service. This may well be a defining moment for the institute, he adds.

“Water is becoming a central focus that cuts across all boundaries,” Weber explains. “The enhanced focus on water sustainability will
be a hallmark change for the institute as we enter what I think may be a new ‘Golden Era’ of water research.”

The faculty members span the disciplines, from engineering and economics to public health and communications. This new focus
on sustainability will reinvigorate and refocus IIHR’s research, while building on the institute’s longtime interest in this issue.

The Water Sustainability Initiative IIHR faculty affiliates are: David Cwiertny, civil and environmental engineering; Kajsa E. Dalrymple, journalism and mass communication; Tori Z. Forbes, chemistry; Ananya Sen Gupta, electrical and computer engineering; Hans-Joachim Lehmler, occupational and environmental health; Craig Just, civil and environmental engineering; and Eric Tate, geography.

An H2O Revolution

Water issues present the perfect combination of complexity and global scale for a multidisciplinary group effort such as this. The collaborative nature of the Water Sustainability Initiative makes many new and fruitful avenues of study possible, allowing the researchers to consider problems they might not have been able to address alone. A better understanding of the broad context for their research enables the WSI affiliates to more completely address complicated water problems.

Why does a water sustainability focus make sense at Iowa? WSI builds on the university’s established strength at IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center. Although Iowa is also subject to drought, the state is, for the most part, blessed with an adequate (and sometimes excessive) supply of water. WSI considers the entire spectrum of water issues, from drought to flood, impaired to clean, and rural to urban.

Iowans put their water to work in many ways: for transportation, for irrigation, for drinking water, for recreation, and recently, for
ethanol production. But even a water-rich state like Iowa can stretch resources too thin. Many of the WSI affiliates believe that now is the time to consider water sustainability in Iowa, rather than waiting for a serious problem to develop. Since water is a critical resource that touches many aspects of society, it makes sense to address the sustainability of water resources in a multidisciplinary manner.

Iowa is also ripe for change. The repeated floods of the last 20 years have created a population eager to learn how to better manage water resources. Here in Iowa, we have a community that is receptive, and in many cases acutely aware, of how water impacts them.

The Power of Collaboration

How does an alliance between nine academics from very different fields work in the real world? So far, it’s working very well. IIHR Research Engineer Jerry Schnoor, the group’s mentor and leader, says that the WSI members have gotten to know each other quite well, and with a good understanding of each member’s research interests, they can look for synergies and opportunities to pursue together.

And collaborating can be exciting. As part of the university’s Water Sustainability Initiative, IIHR’s new faculty affiliates are part of an important new research focus that will positively impact IIHR, the state, and the world for decades to come.

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Last modified on July 14th, 2015
Posted on August 5th, 2013