Committee identifies priorities for nation’s future water resource challenges

Author: Brandi Klingerman

Jennifer Tank 10 FeatureJennifer Tank, Director of the Environmental Change Initiative

Everything from aging water-related infrastructure and extreme weather to growing populations and climate change impacts the quantity and quality of water resources available throughout the United States. To better understand which challenges will be most important to address over the next 25 years, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) committee has released a report identifying the nation’s prevalent water resource needs, which provided advice to the U.S. Geological Survey Water Mission Area (USGS WMA), which commissioned the report.

Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, served as one of 15 experts on the NASEM’s Committee on Future Water Resource Needs for the Nation. In the report, the committee outlined six critical challenges of both national and global water concerns as well as its recommendations.

“Our goal was to determine how the nation should prepare for a future where the probability of water scarcity and natural disasters are evolving,” said Tank. “Although very different scenarios, both are impacted by the same variables, such as human activity and climate change.”

The committee made multiple recommendations, most of which center on understanding the major factors that influence water quality and quantity throughout the U.S. Its assessment advocates for improving data collection and monitoring of groundwater networks, as well as prioritizing research on human interaction with water resources. The report highlighted the importance of developing a water accounting system, which should encompass not only the availability of water resources, but also how the Earth’s biophysical processes impact that availability.

“We really focused on how we prepare for the coming years, as the country faces increasing water-related concerns. We highlighted that humans are an important piece of the puzzle, both in how we influence water resources as well as our decision-making about our role in the future, making it even more critical that society is involved and informed about future water challenges,” said Tank. “Another key suggestion from our deliberations was for the USGS WMA to potentially take a leadership role among all the various agencies and organizations in developing national and regional standards and protocols for water usage.”

Focusing on accurate long-term prediction of extreme weather events — like floods and droughts — and how climate change and socio-economic factors may affect the nation’s future water resources, was also highlighted as a priority. Altogether, these recommendations were developed to overcome the challenges the committee identified as most important over the next 25 years, in an effort to provide guidance for the USGS on how to overcome these concerns.

“Aside from laying out the varying challenges we face regarding water resources, the committee tried to create a roadmap to identify the areas which had the most potential to make progress against the nation’s water concerns, while also considering which technology and approaches could be employed for observing, predicting and delivering results that are essential for societal need and scientific discovery,” said Tank.

Specific technological innovations — such as sensors, big-data computational models and cloud computing — have the potential to change the way research and monitoring of water resources is conducted. These advances, along with educating a future workforce that understands how to utilize these tools, could transform how these many challenges are addressed.

In addition to Notre Dame, other collaborating academic institutions that were represented as part of the NASEM committee included Oregon State University, Rutgers University, Texas State University, University of Delaware, University of Saskatchewan and Vanderbilt University.

To read the full report, visit: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25134/future-water-priorities-for-the-nation-directions-for-the-us.

Contact: Jessica Sieff, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-3933, jsieff@nd.edu

Originally published by Brandi Klingerman at news.nd.edu on October 24, 2018.