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Wyoming, Utah Researchers Join Forces to Understand Complex Water Problems Facing Western States


November 3, 2011 — An interdisciplinary team of Wyoming and Utah researchers has received a $6 million, three-year award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a better understanding of the interconnectivity of natural and human water resources systems -- a critical environmental sustainability problem facing both states.

The award will allow the team of researchers to develop high-performance computer modeling and computational resources (known as cyberinfrastructure or CI for short) to simulate and study how factors such as population growth, shifting land uses and climate variability will affect water storage and availability in the Intermountain West.

The award is made under the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which supports efforts to enhance research, science and mathematics education and work force development.

The CI-WATER project includes researchers from the University of Wyoming, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University. UW and BYU are the lead institutions for their respective states in the consortium.

"The work of this team, which includes some of the leading researchers in hydrology and related fields in the western United States, will lead to a greater understanding of long-term water resource forecasting than ever before," says Norm Jones, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at BYU and the overall project leader. "The value of combining our expertise in one project cannot be overstated."

The project will enable the simulation of the hydrologic processes in greater detail, accounting more comprehensively for variability in topography, land cover, geology and water management infrastructure, leading to improvements in predictions needed to better plan and manage water resources.

"While numerous researchers have looked individually at the components that impact water systems, this project will allow a comprehensive examination of overall system sustainability," says Fred Ogden, civil engineering professor and UW project leader.

The project is boosted by UW's association with the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) that is nearing completion near Cheyenne. Slated to come on line next July, the computer will enable the simulation of the hydrologic processes in greater detail, accounting more comprehensively for variability in topography, land cover, geology and water management infrastructure. Ogden says this will lead to improvements in predictions needed to better plan and manage water resources. NWSC is being developed in partnership with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, UW, the state of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, the Wyoming Business Council and Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power.

Public outreach and community engagement are key elements of the joint Wyoming-Utah project. As part of the effort, public media partners Wyoming PBS and Utah Education Network will bring results of the CI-WATER research to the public through community events and activities for teachers and students.

In its application to the NSF, the CI-WATER team said the project would ultimately result in "tools to visualize and disseminate results and outreach to engage stakeholders and impart science into policy, management, and decisions."

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