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New planning grants to fund research on freshwater issues

The Woods Institute for the Environment has awarded five faculty planning grants to develop long-term research programs at Stanford that help solve the world's urgent demands for fresh water.

"Fresh water is crucial to human survival and well-being, yet in poor countries more than a billion people have no access to safe water supplies, and more than 2 billion lack basic sanitation facilities," said Woods Institute Senior Fellow Richard Luthy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Waterborne diseases and contaminated drinking water are major causes of illness and contribute to the death of millions of children each year, and unsustainable diversions of water for agriculture have resulted in the collapse of fisheries worldwide."

The demand for fresh water is also a major issue in the developed world, he added: "Here in California, we are facing one of our worse droughts in two decades. This is an immediate reminder about our vulnerability to 'business as usual' in the West, and it's apparent the era of cheap water and wasteful practices is closing."

To address these and other environmental challenges, the Woods Institute launched a campus-wide freshwater initiative in 2007 that included a series of water seminars for faculty and students. "Stanford already has excellent programs in various aspects of fresh water," said Woods Senior Fellow Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics. "What the freshwater initiative allows us to do is to pull people together, in new ways, to work on critical problems associated with fresh water."

Last spring, the Woods Institute invited Stanford researchers to submit proposals for freshwater planning grants to an evaluation committee chaired by Woods Co-Director Jeff Koseff, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. In July, the committee awarded the following five projects a total of $312,520 over the next nine months:

Water and Development: Scaling Local Solutions (jointly funded by the Woods Institute and the Stanford School of Medicine): Researchers will organize workshops in two regions of the world most affected by a lack of safe drinking water: Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia. The workshops will be designed to foster dialogue and debate among academics, business leaders and regulators, with the goal of identifying promising solutions to freshwater challenges now being implemented at the local level.

Principal investigators: Jenna Davis (Civil and Environmental Engineering/Woods Institute) and Len Ortolano (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

An Integrated Model of the California Water System: This project will bring together scholars, industry participants and policymakers for a series of meetings that lead to the design of an integrated model of the California water system, incorporating agricultural, residential, industrial, commercial, environmental and recreational uses of fresh water throughout the state.

Principal investigator: Frank Wolak (Economics)

Comprehensive Studies of Aquifer Depletion and Salinization: This proposal is to develop a large-scale research project focusing on the depletion and salinization of aquifers, which are significant problems in the arid West and other parts of the world that rely heavily on groundwater.

Principal investigators: Peter Kitanidis and Martin Reinhard (Civil and Environmental Engineering); Rosemary Knight (Geophysics); Frank Wolak (Economics)

Water in the West: A Regional Approach (jointly funded by the Woods Institute, the School of Medicine and the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West at Stanford): Researchers will develop a series of workshops endeavoring to lead to regional solutions to major water challenges in the western United States. Participants will include regional utilities, government organizations, non-governmental organizations and experts from Stanford and other universities in the West.

Principal investigators: David M. Kennedy (History) and Richard Luthy (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Global Change and Water Resource Vulnerability: Researchers will develop a strategy to identify regional freshwater systems around the world that are most vulnerable to the combined impact of people and nature, from expanding populations to climate change.

Principal investigators: Steven Gorelick (Environmental Earth System Science), Buzz Thompson (Law School), Scott Rozelle (Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies).

"A common theme among the planning grants is the gathering of multidisciplinary expertise within and beyond Stanford to encourage wide-ranging thinking about water problems and the development of research agendas targeting specific solutions," Luthy said.

"These grants will facilitate the formation of new partnerships among people inside and outside of Stanford, partnerships that are needed to deal with the complexity of the issues associated with fresh water," Knight added.


Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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