The United States is one of the most urbanized nations in the world with more than 80% of the population residing in cities. Reliance on water is why Americans express greater concern about threats to water than about any other environmental issue and why nearly half of all Americans worry a great deal about water, according to a 2012 Gallup poll of environmental concerns. Urban water connects coupled natural-built systems and underpins the long-term health and resilience of all human settlements, from small towns to mega-regions. Indeed, all human life depends on water. The complexity of urban water systems defies stovepipe thinking and requires the systems approach proposed in the Sustainability Research Network focused on urban water. The network links perspectives and resources from 14 institutions, each with longstanding programs in water research and education, and close ties to water and urban sustainability stakeholders across the U.S. The mission of the network is to advance the fundamental knowledge, build capacity, and forge collaborations needed to find technological and behavioral solutions that promote sustainable urban water systems. The network seeks solutions that achieve widespread adoption consistent with inclusive, equitable and sustainable urban development.
Urban sustainability depends on a supply of water in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the needs of socioeconomic sectors and ecosystems. Sustaining cities also requires water systems to be resilient to flooding, extreme weather events, and climate change. Water pollution, consumption, and flooding produced by cities along with other pressures can threaten the natural, social, and economic assets that are essential for local and global development. Urban water systems draw from and impact natural water resources and ecosystems Urban water systems draw from and impact natural water resources and ecosystems and utilize vast and expensive infrastructures to meet economic, social, and environmental needs. These infrastructures, and their effects, are managed by a fragmented set of institutions that is challenged with mobilizing collective action for systems organization and management. Therefore the PIs propose a Sustainability Research Network, Urban Water Innovation Network (U-WIN), focused on urban water systems to forge the collaborations among researchers, educators, managers, policymakers and stakeholders that will be essential to addressing the core challenges inherent in these complex, interwoven systems. The mission of U-WIN will be to advance the fundamental knowledge, build capacity, and forge collaborations needed to find technological and behavioral solutions that promote sustainable urban water systems. The PIs will seek solutions that achieve widespread adoption consistent with inclusive, equitable and sustainable urban development. The PIs will follow an adaptive and integrative research, education and outreach program that facilitates stakeholder engagement in order to assess the feasibility, impacts and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions. The process will derive maximum benefits from using water synergistically in urban planning and design. The process will derive maximum benefits from using water synergistically in urban planning and design. The PIs will team with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) (http://usdn.org) includes over 100 local government professionals representing cities across the U.S. and Canada with about 50 million residents, and Netwerc H2O (www.netwerch2o.eu) will facilitate achieving our goals via linkages with more than 50 cities around the world. Netwerc H2O is an association for European municipal and regional governments promoting sustainable water management practices. Motivated by these challenges confronting urban water systems, the PIs have formulated the following research goals for the U-WIN network; 1. Develop a national Urban Water Management Blueprint by creating a conceptual framework that defines the essential characteristics of sustainable urban water systems across regions; 2. Characterize interactions and feedbacks between urban development patterns and the interconnected natural/socioeconomic processes that impact the sustainability of coupled natural-human water systems; 3. Identify sustainable technological, socioeconomic, and management urban water solutions that reduce pressures, enhance resilience and maximize co-benefits in other sectors, and measure their impacts and tradeoffs across time and space; 4. Explore and explain the systemic institutional frameworks required for successful transitions toward sustainable urban water systems in metropolitan regions across the U.S. Given the diverse nature of the water sector of society, the Network will adopt a multi-faceted approach to ensure the long term viability of its approach to urban water sustainability. One strength of the Network is the robust connection of investigators at all 14 institutions with local communities, state and federal agencies and national NGO's. The PIs intend to utilize these collaborations to develop sustained relationships that can turn into valuable research and educational opportunities. Importantly, each institution involved in the Network is committed to exploring options for institutionalizing the network in close collaboration with their deans, vice presidents for research and provosts. Additionally, the PIs will fully explore membership, team building, and project development opportunities that the Urban Water Sustainability Hub will present as a way to sustain research and infrastructure support for the Network as a whole. Finally, the PIs will explore opportunities for commercialization of products, technologies, and services developed within the Network in close collaboration with water technology incubator entities across regions in the U.S.
National Science Foundation, Division of Chemistry, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems