Sustainability: Urban Water Innovation Network

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Arizona State University is part of a consortium of 14 academic institutions and partners across the United States working to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and help them respond to water crises. As part of a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, ASU will work with other organizations in a sustainable research network called the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN). Matei Georgescu, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the principle investigator for the ASU part of the project, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Sustainability" looks at an effort to help cities improve their water systems. ASU will work with 14 other academic institutions in a sustainable consortium called the Urban Water Innovation Network. Matei Georgescu is the principal investigator for ASU's part of the project.

TED SIMONS: Good to have you here, thank you for joining us

MATEI GEORGESCU: Thank you for having me.

TED SIMONS: What is the Urban Innovation Network?

MATEI GEORGESCU: The Urban Water Innovation Network is a National Science funded SRN, sustainable research network. It's essential to get a consortium of 14 diffuse academic institutions, key partners across the United States and also internationally. Trying to understand but also focus on developing innovative solutions to urban water challenges. So what are the main threats to our urban systems and what can we do about them in the future.

TED SIMONS: What are those threats?

MATEI GEORGESCU: There's a number of threats that we're facing and I should also say when we're talking about urban water, urban amounts, the quantity of water and also the quality of water. The main threats really are how do we deal with the growing population, how do we deal with climate change. When we think about climate change, we have to think about really two different facets. Large scale climate change, thanks to greenhouse gases, but also regional urban induced climate change. One of the principal questions that we have is how do we add resilience to the water systems in the face of these increasingly uncertain shocks to cities have to be faced with.

TED SIMONS: And I know you mentioned climate change. I notice that you were -- there's advancing the climate models was a big factor here. Those climate models are changing, aren't they?

MATEI GEORGESCU: They are, in large part because of our observational networks. What happens on the ground is also changing. The climate models are a representation, very fundamental equations that represent the way we understand fluid flow. The atmosphere is a flew. But these can always be improved. There's always all sorts of assumptions.

How are these improved? They are improved with our best understanding of the situation today, a baseline. In order to have that baseline represented well, we need to have the observations by which we can evaluate the models.

TED SIMONS: How much time is needed for these evaluations?

MATEI GEORGESCU: It depends very much on the sort of question that you have. If you're focused on extreme heat events within, say, the last -- let's focus on the current drought that Arizona is experiencing, essentially the last 10 years. Then you might only need 10 years of observations. But if you're focused on the long-term effect of urbanization in Arizona, so Phoenix is really maturing and growing up and developing for the better part of the last hundred years, you might want that dataset to be quite a lot longer. So its driven by the question you have.

TED SIMONS: As far as vulnerability, the U.S. water supplies, how vulnerable are they?

MATEI GEORGESCU: California is a perfect example. Arizona is in a pretty good situation because the engineers or SRP and others have really focused, because we are living in a desert, on water being a finite resource. Looking at other places like California that's really not the situation.

TED SIMONS: Even in Arizona, no water shortages for the next year and maybe 2017, as well. We will talk about this more tomorrow actually. Even so, the lower basin states are consuming more water than the Colorado River can get to them. Eventually, something's got to give. Are you researching this?

MATEI GEORGESCU: Absolutely. One of the key questions is to assess the current state of affairs. Try to understand what is leading to current urban water use. That's important in terms of assessing the baseline, but really a central question is to try to understand what sort of scenarios my we be faced with in the future in terms of different pathways of urbanization growth, how are people going to be using water, how is the allocated across the different sector, industry, agriculture. Climate change, what's really driving the whole thing.

TED SIMONS: These innovation centers, there will be six set up across the country. What exactly are these?

MATEI GEORGESCU: These innovation centers are essentially hubs centered around thought-leading institutes. I mean universities. So here one of the innovation centers is the hub by which we associate with the University of Arizona, Arizona State University works jointly with the University of Arizona to try to understand specifically what are Arizona's concerns today and also over the next 50 to 100 years. We have these regional hubs formed by individual research institutes, so the middle Atlantic example, Princeton University. Because regional decisions are important we can't tell them how to deal with their water supply because they have a better understanding of the situation.

TED SIMONS: And multidisciplinary, I would imagine?

MATEI GEORGESCU: Absolutely. ASU has such a big role in this, ecologists, climate scientists like myself, folks looking at social justice and environmental justice and biometeorology and applied mathematics and computer science, on and on.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like smart sustainable urbanization is the bottom line here. Good luck and we'll probably check in a little later to see how things are going.

MATEI GEORGESCU: Thank you so much.

TED SIMONS: Great to have you here.

TED SIMONS: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll update hearings on a request to increase charges for rooftop solar users. We'll hear from both sides on changes to Arizona's Clean Elections system. At 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Matei Georgescu : Assistant Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the principle investigator for the ASU

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