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Summary Report of the NSF/EPA WATERS Network Workshop, April 30 - May 1, 2008 (EPA/600/R-08/073) May 2008

Image: Cover of Summary Report of the NSF/EPA WATERS Network Workshop.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized a workshop to support the WATer and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network project. The WATERS Network is a new joint initiative of the environmental engineering and hydrologic sciences research communities with the support of NSF. The goal of the WATERS Network is to understand and predict the processes that couple water with earth and human systems through networked sensors, assimilation of high-frequency data, and interdisciplinary experimentation. Through real-time monitoring and modeling, water quality and quantity could be assessed at all times and at all places on a regional level. The WATERS Network would be a continental-scale research facility, possibly incorporating 10 to 12 tightly networked sites across the country. Eleven WATERS Test Bed projects are currently in operation. The EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) has a number of laboratory and field facilities that could potentially be integrated into the WATERS Network project. EPA/NRMRL and NSF are exploring the possibility of a partnership to produce projects that may serve as new WATERS Network Test Beds.

The NSF/EPA WATERS Network Workshop was held April 30 through May 1, 2008, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Technical experts from across the country specializing in areas of water quality and quantity participated in the workshop. The objectives of the workshop were to make the EPA/NRMRL facilities and staff capabilities known to academic community participants of this workshop and to receive feedback from workshop participants on the potential for academic community collaboration through the envisioned NSF/EPA partnership.

On the first day of the workshop, the participants received an overview of the WATERS Network project and potential partnership between EPA and NSF, and descriptions of four EPA/NRMRL facilities. The group then visited two of these facilities, the Test & Evaluation Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Experimental Stream Facility in Clermont County, Ohio. On the second day of the workshop, the participants divided themselves among five breakout session categories charged to discuss the following: (1) the value of the proposed partnership to academic research, (2) potential research areas, and (3) issues of concern that may arise relative to academic community participation. Each group then presented a summary of their discussions and results, and these results were discussed further with the entire group. The five groups explored the following topic areas as they related to the WATERS Network and EPA partnership:

  • Field Studies, Ecosystem Restoration, and Enhancement of Eco Services
  • Technical Evaluation Facility
  • Streams and Watersheds
  • Modeling and Synthesis
  • Institutions and Decision Making

The following sections summarize the major points and outcomes presented by each breakout group as they relate to their three charges.

Value of Partnership

All groups saw merit to the proposed WATERS Network and EPA collaboration, as there are important benefits to be gained, such as leveraging of resources, the unique expertise of each other’s programs, and the ability to test concepts in the real world. Specifically, the following key points were made regarding the partnership:

  • Partnership will provide concrete steps in developing cross-agency collaborations to address national issues.
  • The WATERS Network focuses on water quantity issues, while EPA focuses on water quality, making collaboration complementary.
  • EPA is developing its social science information and modeling capability; therefore, the proposed program could be a good way to focus on integrated research.

Potential Research Areas

The groups presented specific ideas to include EPA facilities in the Phase 2 WATERS Network funding proposal. The following key ideas were discussed regarding projects:

  • Integration of information must be achieved across a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, hydrology, geomorphology, biology, data collection and systems, human processes and behavior, climate change, and social forces that respond to the water environment.
  • Both engineering and hydrological aspects related to water quality and quantity must be balanced.
  • The WATERS Network needs to incorporate a stronger urban/engineered process orientation, while EPA needs stronger science and engineering support for its infrastructure program.
  • Existing watershed models need to be refined significantly, and an appropriate suite of models are needed to interact with hydrogeologic and ecologic models.
  • Models are needed that predict how land use today will affect watersheds for future generations.
  • Cyberinfrastructure tools developed at NSF can benefit both EPA and NSF researchers.
  • Social science is an important component that contributes to the evaluation of water.

Issues of Concern

Some concerns were expressed regarding the partnership and how it may affect the academic community’s involvement. The main issues are presented below:

  • Based on changing EPA priorities, concern was expressed about EPA’s long-term commitment to funding the project and the availability of sufficient funds to conduct the project.
  • Efficient financial and administrative procedures need to be in place to facilitate accomplishing project goals and objectives. This includes ownership and intellectual property rights.
  • Reports and publication review needs to be streamlined and a mechanism developed for writing proposals collaboratively.

A series of follow-up steps to solidify the WATERS Network partnership were considered upon completion of the workshop. The first is to prepare and distribute the Workshop Report to the participants. NSF and EPA will develop a Memorandum of Understanding and determine the details of the financial partnership. Finally, NSF and EPA will begin planning to draft a Solicitation and Management Plan.


James Goodrich

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