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Alabama Water Institute

UA Hosts AWRA National Spring Water Conference

A group of people sitting at tables in front of a stage.

Bringing together a diverse multi-disciplinary group of water researchers and professionals, The American Water Resources Association recently held its 2022 spring conference at The University of Alabama. It was co-hosted by the Alabama Water Institute and the AWRA Future Risk Committee.

Dr. Richard Spinrad, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans, was the keynote speaker.

The conference theme, “Water Risk Under a Rapidly Changing World,” highlighted the importance of evaluating future water hazards and how society can adapt to and overcome them. Spinrad said promoting collaborations across the scientific community is key to driving research to operations.

“At NOAA, we’re trying to lead the way, but we can’t do it alone,” he said. “It’s going to be done in partnership with all of you in the room here, in the academic community, our weather service meteorologists and hydrologists, the USGS hydrologists and of course all the academic and research institutions that are going to help drive the next generation of capabilities.”

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox also addressed the uniqueness of water to the area.

“Water is essential to the DNA of this city,” said Maddox. “Tuscaloosa was founded more than 200 years ago on the shores of the Black Warrior River, which runs through the heart of our community. The city is one of the rare entities that owns its own lake system. We have about 40 billion gallons of water that the city owns and maintains.”

Approximately 180 water professionals from 34 states, including 77 from Alabama, 26 representatives from federal agencies and one student from Mongolia, gathered for three days of informative sessions centered around water research, security and management. Students from participating academic institutions also competed in poster and paper presentations.

Two UA students won awards for their work: Hemal Day, a geography student advised by Dr. Wanyun Shao, won second place in the technical paper competition. Chloe Ponprasit, a student studying geological sciences under Dr. Yong Zhang, placed second in the poster competition.

The AWRA conference took place days after NOAA awarded UA and the AWI the Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology, or CIROH.

“Cooperative institutes are a very special entity within NOAA,” said Spinrad. “We have an extraordinary opportunity here to focus on hydroinformatics and community water resources modeling, geographic information systems and remote sensing, data assimilation, high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

The $360 million award is the largest external award in UA’s history, acknowledging the University’s commitment to water research and creating impactful career paths for students.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about what the next five years will bring in terms of not just developing new capabilities, but also workforce development,” Spinrad said. “Academia is involved, and I see the students coming out of cooperative institutes as being the next generation that continues to elevate this extraordinary trajectory that we’ve had in hydrology in NOAA over the past 20 years or so.”

Maddox said bringing a leading national conference such as AWRA and federal, academic and industry partnerships to Tuscaloosa puts the city on the map for research in hydrology and water management.

“It’s an exciting feeling it is to know that your community is going to be on the cutting edge of analysis, forecasting and research,” Maddox said. “UA’s partnership with NOAA and the USGS is something that a lot of communities, whether big or small, in our nation would love to emulate.”

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