Wednesday, November 15 marked the first annual University of Utah Water Forum, an event that showcased several of the U’s most innovative programs focused on collaborative and interdisciplinary research addressing water issues. The event was co-sponsored by the Global Change and Sustainability Center, the U Water Center, and the Society, Water, & Climate faculty research group.
University of Utah Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins welcomed participants to the event, which included dozens of the U’s faculty and researchers, as well as representatives from local utilities, and stakeholders from the private sector. “It is inspiring to see so many leaders from the U working together to advance this important collaboration on water,” Dr. Watkins observed. Professor Brenda Bowen, the Director of the GCSC, emphasized how events like the Water Forum are central to the GCSC’s mission, which is to help form and facilitate collaborative research initiatives that address global issues of natural resources and sustainability. “This is what the GCSC is all about—bringing people together and finding ways to collaborate.”
The Forum provided an introduction to the new U Water Center. The UWC’s Director, Steve Burian, outlined the vision for the new Center, whose goals mirror much of the Forum’s agenda: to make the work of the academic research community relevant and useful to solving real world problems. Professor Burian explained how the UWC will build upon the success and lessons learned through the USAID-funded US-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Water, which created a collaborative research and training partnership between the U and Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Jamshoro, Pakistan. “The U Water Center aims to provided capacity building and training programs for water professionals around the world, and to catalyze applied interdisciplinary research with a focus on creating new technologies and venture development.”
Professor Andrea Brunelle, Chair of the U’s Geography Department, also introduced the creation of the new Society, Water, & Climate faculty research group. This initiative has recruited several new faculty members and researchers onto the U’s campus, and will be working closely with the GCSC and the UWC in advancing water related research and innovation at the U.
After opening remarks, the forum offered a breakout session for networking, and culminated with a panel discussion of local water resource managers, including representatives from Utah’s Division of Water Resources, Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities, Utah’s Division of Water Quality, and Utah’s Division of Drinking Water. The panelists and representatives from the U all agreed for the need for closer collaboration between public utilities and the U’s research community. Professor Pat Shea urged local water managers to take better advantage of the resources available on campus. “The university has tremendous resources. The mathematics department, for example, has world-class modeling capabilities that could be used to better inform public policy.”
The forum concluded with the stated intention of working to build stronger collaborative partnership both between academic disciplines and between the research community, public utilities, and the private sector. Geology and geophysics professor Paul Brooks summarized the event, “I really appreciated this opportunity to get people from both sides of the fence together to meet and talk about our common objectives. Resource managers and academic researchers have different ways of viewing issues related to water, but there are so many ways for us to all collaborate."