Director’s Message – Winter 2018

Welcome to the director’s column for Water UCI’s first newsletter. I’d like to take this opportunity, through this column, to tell you a little about who we are and what we do.

Water UCI was established in summer 2014 with the twin objectives of fostering collaboration among UCI faculty, students, and researchers around freshwater problems – and engaging our Southern California colleagues in efforts to apply our conjoint knowledge to tackling the grand challenges facing this precious, irreplaceable resource, here in California and elsewhere.

The way we figured it, there was no place better suited to address these grand challenges than at a great university serving as home to a cadre of disciplines devoted to the study of water in all its dimensions. Furthermore, our university is situated in a region that faces significant water problems ranging from drought and flooding to growing demands for food, fiber, energy, and drinkable water.

In spring 2017, following a campus-level review, an Academic Planning Group concluded that “Water UCI has achieved impressive accomplishments, particularly in the important areas of community engagement and research.” It was also recommended that, beginning in July, 2017 Water UCI become a center based in the School of Social Ecology. This is a most welcome opportunity, as Social Ecology is an appropriate and hospitable home for our research, education, and outreach activities. The School’s motto: “science driving solutions,” encapsulates our aspiration to help address society’s water challenges in a deeply practical and applied – as well as theoretical – manner through engaging with decision-makers as well as other scholarly disciplines.

During our time as a campus initiative, Water UCI launched a number of activities in pursuit of these objectives. These included a series of colloquia open to the greater SoCal community featuring experts from academia, government, and the private sector;.a film series and “plastic ocean” art exhibit; a drought-tolerant landscaping workshop in conjunction with Irvine Ranch Water District; and panel discussions on the future of water management in our region which was rebroadcast, in part, on local public television stations last spring.  

We also launched a series of education efforts including a summer session graduate field methods course to expose tomorrow’s water leaders to the inter-disciplinary knowledge base required to tackle complex water issues.  And, speaking of next generation leaders, we’ve not ignored our public schools. One of our most exciting efforts has been our “Middle School Challenge” involving students and teachers from Irvine and Corona Del Mar who, with the help of UCI students, are crafting creative classroom projects focused on ways to save and even reuse water while helping to make our community – and our planet – more sustainable.

Every great university supports cutting-edge research. Water UCI has sought to carefully cultivate scholarly areas for investigation where we can best serve as a catalyst for exploring critical problems at the intersection of several fields.  Our California Drought conference co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union brought together nearly 200 scientists from throughout the University of California system, as well as students and state and federal officials to discuss new directions for managing our next major drought. Our U.S. Department of Energy/UC Office of the President workshop on the Water-Energy Nexus examined how to more closely meld energy and water sector efficiency programs in order to conserve both resources.  More recently, we were involved in helping to put together an Urban Water Atlas for Europe designed to help decision-makers understand the critical role cities play in using and managing water.

While we are very proud of these and other initial efforts, they represent merely a beginning – a lightly trod pathway that we hope will lead to even bigger and better things – a superhighway of water-related scholarship, education, and outreach activities.

So – given this aspiration – what are Water UCI’s goals and challenges moving forward?  For starters, we hope to expand our Middle School Challenge and to provide additional opportunities for UCI students to become involved in mentoring middle school pupils while working with teachers on water curriculum enhancements. We will also be working to expand opportunities for internships and other water-related projects for UCI students with local water agencies throughout Southern California.  If you’ve ideas on how to help with this, please let us know!

We will also be expanding our international collaborations – continuing our work with the Network for Water in European Cities and Regions in Europe, and, launching a new collaboration with scholars at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

We will also be continuing – and expanding – our efforts to cultivate new water scholarship on critical topics at the intersection of several fields. You can see part of this result in our “working papers” series. We hope to tell you more about such efforts in our plans to cultivate stronger relationships with other universities and water agencies in the region and throughout the Pacific Rim – again, in future newsletters.

In closing, I am especially pleased at the generous support we are receiving to fund our signature colloquia series – you’ll learn more about this in a future newsletter. A generous gift from a local donor will make it possible for the series to become even bigger and better. It will also help us meet our aspiration to engage in a university-community dialogue on issues at the intersection of water, energy, land use, and policy such as desalination and hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”).

Stay tuned!  Future newsletters will feature profiles of UCI water researchers and their activities; student learning ventures; new colloquia, conferences, and workshops, and other opportunities. We know we’ll have a lot to tell, and we think you’ll enjoy what we have to share. And, once again, if you’ve any ideas on how we can continue to advance our vision – please share them with us. We’d love to hear from you!