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DISES-RCN: Identifying Cross-Cutting Challenges Toward a Net Zero Urban Water (NZUW) Future in the Southwest

Sponsored by National Science Foundation

$500K Funding
2 People

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Over 40 million people rely on an overallocated Colorado River for their water supply. Climate change, drought, urban development, and population growth are increasing severity of water shortages. Net Zero Urban Water (NZUW) cities meet the needs of a given community with a locally available and sustainable water supply, without detriment to interconnected systems and long-term water supply. The goal of this research coordination network is to move toward NZUW cities in the US Southwest. Through a series of workshops, literature reviews, stakeholder interviews, focus group discussions, and pre and post workshop surveys, an NZUW framework will be developed across seven identified research gaps. Cities of varying size and location in the US Southwest will be used as testbeds for the development of this framework (e.g., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Tucson, Colorado Springs). Participation by all interested parties will be actively promoted through a website, newsletter, and social media. The long term impacts of the research coordination network are expected to include: (1) a novel NZUW conceptual framework to coordinate multidisciplinary research; (2) the delivery of decision support through comprehensive models to quantitatively evaluate dynamic trade-offs in NZUW systems across spatial and time scales; (3) development of new partnerships between academic, public, and private sectors; and (4) a resilient and sustainable urban water supply for the 40 million people serviced by the Colorado River. Urban water systems are inherently complex socio-environmental systems, connecting water to humans and humans to water, whose ?language? is a technical system shaped by human decisions. These systems are products of a 20th century understanding of precipitation regimes, development patterns, engineering science, and city administrative organizations. The current urban water system approach and the institutions used to build, manage, and regulate these systems are no longer adequate to address the uncertainties facing water systems, and there is a need to integrate new socio-environmental knowledge. This research coordination network will support a move toward Net Zero Urban Water (NZUW) cities for a resilient and sustainable water future. Following the conceptual models of net zero energy and carbon systems, this project will define and examine the viability and value of pursuing a NZUW approach in arid and semi-arid urban scenarios of varying size and location serviced by the Colorado River (e.g., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Tucson, Colorado Springs). NZUW is a place-based, comprehensive, quantitative framework to guide the development of resilient and sustainable water systems that can respond to acute shocks and chronic stressors and integrate dynamic socio-environmental systems into the analysis. NZUW is a framework that pushes the current conceptual boundaries of urban water systems by accounting for the integrated socio-environmental systems necessary to transition to a resilient, sustainable water future. The first objective of the research coordination network is the creation of an overall research road map to address the challenges of shifting cities toward sustainable, resilient urban water systems. Research gaps will be identified across seven research areas: (1) alternative water sources and retrofit, (2) distributed soft infrastructure, (3) surface and groundwater interactions, (4) treatment and management technologies, (5) public preference, (6) policy and governance, and (7) equity and justice across urban water. The second objective is the initiation, coordination, and dissemination of NZUW related research through a newsletter, website, and social media. The third objective is assessment across multiple time scales. The final research road map report will comprehensively detail the research gaps across the seven established research areas and the results of the scenario testing of the NZUW framework. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.