Drought-ravaged California misses out on billions of gallons of fresh water each year, as rain washes into storm drains and out to sea. University of California researchers say it’s time for that practice to change.

Led by UC Irvine civil engineer Stanley Grant, they hope to start a revolution in how urban storm water is collected and managed.

Faculty from Irvine, UCLA, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Barbara will use a $1.9 million grant from UC’s Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives to transform the UC campuses into living laboratories and show how urban storm water can safely augment water supplies and minimize flood risk.

Through coordinated research and modeling, the five Southern California campuses will develop the science, engineering and policy innovations needed to usher in a new era.

“This is one of 15 interdisciplinary projects that the university is funding in 2017 to advance research in areas of critical importance to California and the world,” said Arthur Ellis, UC’s vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. “These projects illustrate how UC can leverage its collective excellence to develop solutions for real-world problems.”

The grants, totaling over $17 million, were announced in early December. The winning research projects were selected by peer review from a pool of 97 applications in a highly competitive grant review process. The funded portfolio spans the breadth of university scholarship, including arts and humanities, health, social and physical sciences and engineering. Other highlights from among the funded projects include:

UC Valley Fever Research Initiative ($1.7 million)

Led by UC San Francisco physician Anita Sil, this effort will bring researchers together from Berkeley, Merced, Riverside and San Diego to address a significant public health issue in California’s Central Valley.

Little is known about the soil-borne fungal pathogen that causes Valley fever, but its impact is far-reaching: Over the last decade, hospitalizations from Valley fever have cost patients and taxpayers $2 billion, and incidence of the disease is on the rise.

Sil and others plan to assemble and sequence the DNA of the fungus strains that cause the disease, then map and test the genes for virulence. UC is particularly well-suited to undertake this work because it has special laboratory facilities for handling such pathogens.

Critical Refugee Studies ($1.6 million)

Led by UC San Diego Ethnic Studies professor Yen Le Espiritu, this project will bring cultural studies and humanities scholars together to better understand one of the defining issues of the 21st century: the refugee experience in both past and present as war and climate change continue to displace millions of people around the world.

Espiritu, who is credited with developing the nascent field of critical refugee studies, will work with faculty from Berkeley, Merced, UCLA and Riverside to document how the lives of distinct waves of refugees have been shaped by human conflict and climate change. 

California has settled 700,000 refugees since the mid-70s, and this research is aimed at informing the policies and practices that shape the refugee experience in California and beyond.

More about Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives:

Through its Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives, UC’s Office of the President provides grants to UC faculty that:

  • Advance cutting-edge research in topics important to UC, the people of California and to the state’s environment and economy
  • Increase UC’s competitiveness in attracting extramural funding
  • Train UC students in emerging fields of scholarship

See the full list of 2017 MRPI grantees and learn more about the awards process: http://ucop.edu/research-initiatives/programs/mrpi