Lower lake levels due to drought

Credit: California Department of Water Resources

The recent drought has impacted Folsom Lake and other water supply systems in California.

Urban Water Innovation Network members

Colorado State University
Arizona State University
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Florida International University
Howard University
Oregon State University
Princeton University
University of Arizona
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Miami
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania

The University of California, Riverside is one of 14 academic institutions and key partners across the United States that are addressing the challenges threatening urban water systems in the United States and around the world. These institutions, led by Colorado State University, have just received $12 million from the National Science Foundation to establish the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN).  UWIN will create technological, institutional, and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

“UWIN builds on long-standing programs at UC Riverside for research and training, and trusted leadership in all facets of water resources,” said Darrel Jenerette, an associate professor of botany and plant sciences at UCR, who serves as a senior personnel with UWIN. “These programs include urban water conservation, sustainable urban drainage systems and flood control, drought management, pollution control, water resources planning and management, ecological engineering, climate sciences, and urban biodiversity.”

This project builds on Jenerette’s expertise with urban biodiversity, vegetation based regional cooling, and water requirements for urban vegetation. His lab focuses on the coupling between biodiversity, energy fluxes, and biogeochemical cycling embedded within ecological landscapes.

According to the 2014 Global Risks Perception Survey by the World Economic Forum, water crises are the top global risk to the viability of communities throughout the world. From the crippling droughts and water shortages in the West to the devastating floods in the East and South, water systems in the U.S. have been impacted by changes in climate, demographics, and other pressures. Our absolute reliance on water is why Americans express greater concern about threats to water than about any other environmental issue and why more than half of all Americans worry a great deal about it, according to latest Gallup poll of environmental concerns.

Extreme events and global climate change can have profound impacts on water security, shattering the most vulnerable communities and instilling enormous costs on governments and economies. Effective response to these challenges requires transitioning to both technological and management solutions that protect water systems from pressures and enhance their resilience.

The vision of UWIN is to create an enduring research network for integrated water systems and to cultivate champions of innovation for water-sensitive urban design and resilient cities. The integrated research, outreach, education and participatory approach of UWIN will produce a toolbox of sustainable solutions by simultaneously minimizing pressures, enhancing resilience to extreme events, and maximizing co-benefits. These benefits will reverberate across other systems, such as urban ecosystems, economies and arrangements for environmental justice and social equity.

The network will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated regions across the nation to serve as innovation centers, helping communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Strategic partnerships and engagement with other prominent U.S. and international networks will extend UWIN’s reach to more than 100 cities around the world. Key UWIN partners and collaborators include the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities.

This innovative and adaptive research approach will ultimately produce an Urban Water Sustainability Blueprint, outlining effects and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions for cities of all sizes. The blueprint will be rigorously vetted by regional stakeholders across the U.S. and the global urban water community.