AWI Strategic Plan Addresses Global Water Research and Solutions

June 23, 2021

By Brock Parker

An open hand with water droplets above it.The Alabama Water Institute has launched its five-year strategic plan to guide its mission of carrying out cutting edge and applied research and to train the next generation of scientists to provide working, novel solutions for a more water-secure world.

The plan, which outlines the institute’s path until 2026, focuses on the collaborations of water researchers at The University of Alabama and federal, state and local agencies and industries. These partnerships will help AWI provide interdisciplinary knowledge and solutions for critical water problems and issues for all humanity, as well as advance UA’s commitment to be a leading education and research institution for water-related matters.

“The Alabama Water Institute has done a superb job coalescing the input of many water scientists and engineers at The University of Alabama into a strategic plan that is actionable and forward leaning, and that best represents one of the University’s signature research areas,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, vice president for research and economic development. “Given the growing water economy this plan will help our research have direct application in addressing problems that are relevant to both the state and the nation and provide many highly differentiating opportunities for our students.”

The AWI was created by UA to become a world-class interdisciplinary water research institute that develops path-breaking, holistic and environmentally friendly solutions to ensure people and ecological systems in our community, state, nation and around the world are water secure with access to clean water and are resilient to extreme events.

The plan echoes UA’s strategic goal of increasing productivity and innovation in research, scholarship and creative activities that impact economic and societal development. In addition, it also lays the groundwork for advancing the strategic themes of UA’s Office for Research & Economic Development. Those include but are not limited to promoting cooperative water research efforts with both campus and external stakeholders, working with other UA research institutes and centers to mutually benefit endeavors from a water perspective and seeking partnerships with other research universities.

“The AWI Strategic Plan is the culmination of a great deal of work and demonstrates the depth and breadth or our research expertise in water at The University of Alabama,” said Scott Rayder, AWI executive director. “It also highlights how our research needs to be as integrated as the environment we are trying to predict and understand, and the roadmap it provides should help our water enterprise here at the University.”

Four primary strategic themes make up the AWI strategic plan:

  • Modeling and remote sensing.
  • Integrated water resource assessment.
  • Management of water hazards.
  • Water security and risk communication.

To accomplish the modeling and remote sensing theme, AWI will seek out research to develop the next generation of hydrological models, remote sensing of water dynamics/ecology and development of novel sensors, groundwater modeling and aquifer sustainability assessments and water quantity and quality modeling in response to changes in the physical environment.

The integrated water resource assessment theme will be met by developing basic understanding needed to inform programs and policies to reduce impact on water quantity, water quality, threatened and endangered species, health and ecosystem function. Research is critical in the areas of drinking water treatment, low cost sewage treatment, water quality and health conditions monitoring and modeling and ecosystem function management.

The third theme, management of water hazards, seeks to develop and improve predictive tools that reduce risk and increase resilience of agricultural, industrial, public water supplies and natural ecosystems to stressors. Research in areas of coastal flooding management, flood and drought forecasting, impacts of water hazards on natural environment and development of predictive tools for management of species and ecosystems will be needed.

The final theme of water security and risk communication will allow AWI to create research opportunities to communicate water, science and risk impacts on society. The research needed for this theme will be sought to effectively getting AWI’s message out to the public, which includes educational outreach and the dissemination of science and risk information. It will also require research about humankind’s water footprint, along with water security analysis.

AWI’s strategic plan will help UA to become a global leader in state, regional, national and international water issues. AWI can guide the shift in understanding, valuing and managing water for our nation and the global community to address all water-related challenges in the future and shape our world for a better tomorrow.

The full plan is available on the AWI website.