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Libby Creek is raging. From a short hike's distance, its rumbling sounds like a not-so-distant jet engine. Standing a few yards away, one can feel the chilly spray and slight breeze rising from the frigid, rushing torrent.
Scott Miller, associate professor and director of the University of Wyoming's hydrology program, says he's never seen Libby this fast so late in the year. In June, maybe, but not July. Heavy, late-melting snowpack has swollen the creek beyond its narrow banks. Thundering over a cataract, it provides an impressive display of sight and sound.
Tony Perlinski (PhD '12) and Matthew Hayes (MS '12), graduate students in renewable resources, have just checked levels, flow velocity, and water quality in a smaller stream. Next, they'll head uphill to survey snowpack, which has a major influence on the amount of water available for agricultural and municipal use. They won't check Libby Creek today, however. It's not safe to approach, and instruments or not, one look says it's beyond full-and quite formidable. Stunning, too, Miller says: "We're doing work, but I just like to come up here because it's beautiful."
Miller and his water program colleagues-including Ginger Paige, associate professor, David Williams, professor, and Thijs Kelleners, assistant professor-visit these mountains year-round, gathering data that will assist them in forecasting Wyoming's seasonal water supply. Though the headwaters of several major rivers lie within the state, the amount of water they transport varies greatly from year to year due to the semiarid climate and changing environmental conditions. Nor does all of this water belong to Wyomingites. Seven interstate compacts stipulate how much can be used within Wyoming's borders and how much must be left for thirsty states downstream.
According to a recent United Nations report, more than half the world's population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030. UW's graduate programs in hydrology arose from a desire to produce forward-thinking water experts who understand not only the mechanics of water supply, but also its legal, economic, social, and human dimensions. To this end, the hydrology programs unite faculty, students, and researchers from academic departments throughout the university.
UW's Board of Trustees approved the creation of the WRESE Interdisciplinary Doctorate in Hydrologic Sciences on May 7, 2010. Miller says the proposal received key support from Vice President William Gern of the Office of Research and Economic Development, the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the William D. Ruckelshaus Institute.
When civil engineering professor Fred Ogden arrived from the University of Connecticut in 2006, he quickly identified a willingness in the faculty to support an interdisciplinary doctorate in hydrologic sciences and initiated a faculty-led movement to develop the program. UW had previously approved an interdisciplinary master's degree in water resources, and its success helped establish credibility for the proposed doctoral program.
"We'd been trying to get that caliber of study coming out of the graduate students at the doctoral level-well-rounded and understanding the influences, not just straight engineering or watershed management," Paige says. "There are lots of different ways to look at water issues."
The research office, Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute agreed that UW was an ideal setting for a hydrology doctoral program. A large institution with strengths in scholarship, research, and outreach could bring together highly specialized faculty from a variety of disciplines. It could also disseminate research findings and innovative practices through its extension and outreach programs-something a hydrology think tank couldn't accomplish.
Today, the young doctoral program, which just celebrated its first anniversary, is uniting water researchers across campus in a common mission. "We're getting to where we have a sense of the variety of disciplines and people who focus on water and those whose information, research, and thinking are important to water," Paige says. "It's a nice synergy at work."
The interdisciplinary spirit implied by its name (WRESE stands for Water Resources/Environmental Science and Engineering) drives every aspect of the doctoral program. Hydrology students can choose from 10 focus areas ranging from water quality to ecological hydrology to quantitative modeling. WRESE-approved classes span 11 academic departments and are taught by 31 instructors.
Read full feature in the UWyo Magazine online