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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research


Water and Watersheds

EPA/NSF Joint Competition
Interagency Announcement of Opportunity



The goal of the Water and Watersheds competition is to develop an improved understanding of the natural and anthropogenic processes that govern the quantity, quality, and availability of water resources in natural and human-dominated systems, and an understanding of the structure, function, and dynamics of the coupled terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that comprise watersheds.

Human activities have made access to clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems paramount issues in the U.S. and throughout the world. The integrated nature of watersheds-the landscape units that integrate terrestrial, aquatic, geologic, and atmospheric processes-provides a strong rationale for supporting interdisciplinary science and engineering research that uses a systems approach. Such research is needed for decisionmaking that balances restoration, long-term protection, and informed management of water and watersheds with socioeconomic considerations.

As we assess the relative risks faced by the nation's aquatic resources, and evaluate the natural capital represented in water and watersheds, we need a better knowledge base regarding how humans and their infrastructure interact with water and watersheds. Information on water and watersheds should be assessed and integrated with the needs of management and policy decisionmakers as a base for identifying areas where improved understanding is needed and for developing the multifaceted and interactive models needed for research and management of entire watersheds.


This competition emphasizes multidisciplinary, fundamental research on important scientific, engineering, and socioeconomic principles for understanding, protecting, and restoring water resources and watershed processes in the U.S. and other regions of the world. A systems approach and general applicability of the research to watershed-scale questions are required in each proposal. Investigators are encouraged to bring together formerly disparate, state-of-the-art approaches to address watershed-scale issues and explore new paradigms that draw widely from different disciplines.

Three overarching research components related to water and watersheds provide the framework for this competition. The degree to which these three components are integrated in a systems approach will be a review criterion. The most competitive proposals will be those that help integrate multiple goals of NSF and/or EPA programs and address questions that are comprehensive in scale and transferable in scope. Appropriate and innovative statistical methodologies and modeling are encouraged. Research that explores questions of spatial and temporal scaling is appropriate in the context of all components.

The three overarching components are:

  • Ecological research that links diversity and vitality of aquatic biota and ecological processes, relationships among populations and communities of organisms, and landuse or other anthropogenic factors.
  • Hydrologic, biogeochemical, and engineering research that addresses the physical, chemical, and biological processes and mechanisms which govern the interactions of nutrients, metals, toxic materials, and organisms within and among surface waters, groundwaters, sediments, soils, and the atmosphere.
  • Social science research that develops a systemic perspective on, and predictive understanding of, the impacts and spatial aspects of human behavior and social and economic systems on surface and ground water resources and watersheds.

The following diagram represents the intersections of these three research components, and illustrates the areas in which proposals are particularly sought. Statistical analyses, mathematical modeling, geographic information systems, and spatial and temporal scaling research cross all numbered areas.

Area 1 represents the intersection of all three research components. Proposals that fall in this area are most desirable. Examples of the kinds of studies to be encouraged include, but are not limited to: watershed management research that explores the interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as related to contaminant transport, availability of nutrients, and non-point source runoff and infiltration; research on the human, biological, and geochemical impacts of exotic species introductions and fragmentation of aquatic populations; research on socioeconomic incentives and disincentives as they relate to protection of water quality and diversity/vitality of aquatic biota and ecological processes; and research on restoration of hydrological and ecological functions that includes assessment of human disturbance, including geographic impacts, and system recovery.

Areas 2, 3 and 4 in the diagram represent the intersections of paired areas as indicated. Proposals that fall in these areas are the next most desirable. Examples of the kinds of studies to be encouraged include, but are not limited to: research on microbial and other biological factors that affect the status and behavior of contaminants in sediments and wetlands; research that explores the relations among human behavior, resource and associated land use patterns, quality of drinking water sources, and aquatic populations and communities; research on the impacts of floods, droughts, urbanization, and wet weather flows on water quality and bioavailability of nutrients and contaminants; research on effects of changes in hydrologic regime and contaminant loading on risk perception and associated socioeconomic dynamics.

International opportunities for research are also available. The following types of activities are especially encouraged between U.S. and foreign scientists and engineers: 1) cooperative research, 2) joint seminars and planning visits, and 3) international research experiences for scientists at an early stage in their careers.

Proposals on the following will not be considered in this competition: industrial accidents, spills, routine monitoring projects, routine application of well-established models, projects involving site-specific remediation practices, drinking water treatment and distribution, point-source waste-water treatment and sanitary sewerage infrastructure, and research on human health effects.

More focused disciplinary projects not employing an interdisciplinary, systems approach that fall into disciplinary areas marked 5, 6 and 7 will not be considered in this competition. Proposals seeking funds for such projects should be submitted to other existing programs.


Proposers are requested to designate, in descending priority order, two or more of the following three research components emphasized in their proposed study. Please make this designation the first line of the Project Summary. These areas are described in section 2.2 of this announcement.

Biological and Ecological Research

Hydrologic, Geochemical, and Engineering Research

Social Science Research

The normal 15-page limit specified in the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) (NSF 95-27) will be strictly enforced, with attention given to font size, margins, and other requirements. The 15 pages should be used for the project description, including figures and tables. The "Results from Prior Support" section, which under normal GPG guidelines is counted as part of the 15-page limit, should appear as a separate section up to 5 pages in length. Note: This deviation from the GPG is authorized for Water and Watersheds proposals only. The "Results from Prior Support" section should include information on prior Federal awards most closely related to the proposal, (i.e. not limited to NSF awards).

Please see Section 6.0 for complete instructions for proposal submission.

In addition to the general review criteria listed in the GPG (see Section 7.0 of this announcement), Water and Watersheds proposals will also be judged on the degree to which the three overarching research components described in Section 2.2 are integrated in a systems approach, and the likelihood that the proposed research will effectively address questions that are comprehensive in scale and transferable in scope. Attention will be given to the appropriateness of the proposed statistical and mathematical methodologies.

Proposals received by other NSF programs under normal unsolicited proposal mechanisms will NOT be considered in the FY 1996 Water and Watersheds competition.

Approximately $6 million will be made available for this competition, with a projected award range from $75,000 to $500,000 per award per year and an approximate duration of 2 to 3 years.

Final selection of Water and Watersheds awardees by NSF and EPA will be based on the evaluation of the relative merit of the proposals made by recommendations by ad hoc reviewers, additional review by a panel of peers, and programmatic considerations. It is expected that grant awards will be made by Fall, 1996. Appropriate officials may be contacted after 15 September 1996 regarding proposal status.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Penny Firth
Internet: pfirth@nsf.gov
voice (703) 306-1480

Dr. Ian MacGregor
Internet: imacgreg@nsf.gov
voice (703) 306-1553

Ms. Barbara Levinson
Internet: levinson.barbara@epamail.epa.gov
fax (202) 260-0211
voice (202) 260-5983

Return to NSF 96-45 NSF/EPA Partnership for Enviornmental Research FY 1996

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