University of Alabama awarded $360 million to lead national water effort

University of Alabama awarded $360 million to lead national water effort
The Cahaba River flows through Leeds. The University of Alabama will lead a national effort comprising a 14-member consortium and 14 additional partners to turn water research into beneficial operations. Goals include better prediction of droughts and floods, more efficient management of water resources and better protection of water quality. (Alabama NewsCenter file)

With transformative federal government support of up to $360 million over the next five years, the University of Alabama is poised to become a standard-bearer in translating water research into operations that improve the nation’s ability to predict water-related hazards and effectively manage water resources.

The award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the largest external award in UA’s history, will be administered by the Alabama Water Institute and acknowledges UA’s commitment to making water a signature research and academic focus.

The effort establishes the Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology (CIROH). Headquartered at AWI, CIROH is a consortium of 28 academic institutions, nonprofit organizations and government and industry partners bringing together a powerful team of hydrologic researchers across the United States and Canada. They will develop and deliver national hydrological analyses, forecast information, data, guidance and equitable decision-support services to inform essential emergency management and water resources decisions.

“I am thrilled that the University of Alabama has received this competitive award to facilitate a cutting-edge Cooperative Institute focused on hydrology,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. “UA has the unique environment and expertise to lead the nation in high-level water research between 28 partners. Thanks to the Alabama Water Institute’s leadership in assembling a world-class team, the growing scientific expertise and collaborations in Alabama will continue to benefit the nation. Additionally, NOAA’s efforts to create this innovative institute will, in turn, protect communities and promote wise investments across the nation through better water models, forecasts and predictions. This award is excellent news for Alabama and its findings will influence decisions made across the continent for years to come.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility will be built on the north side of the University of Alabama campus near the Black Warrior River. (contributed)

“The addition of the Cooperative Institute to the University of Alabama’s campus bolsters UA’s position at the epicenter of water research and operations,” said UA System Chancellor Finis St. John. “The opportunity to earn this competitive grant and lead the nation in this transformative work providing exceptional educational opportunities for our students would not be possible without Sen. Richard Shelby’s support to bring the National Water Center and U.S. Geological Survey partners to our campus.”

CIROH will work closely with two federal organizations on campus – NOAA’s National Water Center and the recently announced U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility – allowing for highly productive collaboration between AWI and other federal agency scientists.

“The research institutes were established on campus to support and expand upon the great work done by our faculty, staff and students in addressing real challenges facing our society,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “This award will elevate those contributions, bringing innovation to such a critical issue as water quality and availability while enriching the educational experience of our students. The expertise of the Alabama Water Institute is positioned well to answer our nation’s call to improve the lives and livelihood of Americans and our partner nations.”

“The University of Alabama is at the forefront of hydrological research,” said Russell Mumper, vice president for research and economic development. “Tuscaloosa is now a hub of innovation for putting intelligence related to water resources into action. We are grateful for the trust placed upon the university to lead this national center of excellence.”

The University of Alabama is a longtime leader in water research. (contributed)

The consortium led by UA assists NOAA’s vision of a water- and weather-ready nation. CIROH will advance water research in support of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction and reinforce the work of the National Weather Service and National Water Center through collaboration across the scientific community in four broad research themes:

  • Water resources prediction capabilities.
  • Community water resources modeling.
  • Hydroinformatics.
  • Application of social, economic and behavioral science to water resources prediction.

“I am proud to be spearheading this unprecedented Cooperative Institute, which will not only create a consortium of institutions that will leverage their individual prowess to address today’s most pressing water issues but also usher UA forward in its status as an emerging and leading water research institution,” said Scott Rayder, AWI executive director.

CIROH will create curriculum programs across its consortium members and partners to prepare the next generation of water professionals. Local-to-national scale workforce training programs will translate CIROH advances into practice. Extensive outreach and engagement will connect CIROH to stakeholders helping communities build resilience to water-related risks.

The new Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology will work closely with the National Water Center on the University of Alabama campus. (National Water Center)

Steven Burian, AWI director of science and professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, will be executive director of CIROH.

“We now begin the real work of coproducing research with NOAA and other partners that will benefit society and provide learning opportunities for students for years to come,” said Burian. “The research innovations delivered by the Cooperative Institute will improve forecasts of floods and droughts, increase efficiency of water resources management, protect water quality and empower stakeholders to make confident and timely decisions.”

Along with UA, CIROH consortium members are Brigham Young University; Colorado School of Mines; Tuskegee University; University of Alabama in Huntsville; University of Arizona; University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of Hawaii at Mānoa; University of Iowa; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Saskatchewan; University of Utah; University of Vermont; and Utah State University.

Consortium partners are Baron Weather Inc.; Coastal Carolina University; Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrological Science Inc.; Dauphin Island Sea Lab; Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System; Jupiter Intelligence; New Mexico State University; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Pennsylvania State University; RTI International; Stevens Institute of Technology; University of California, Davis; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and University of South Carolina.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

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