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UT Austin Brings Leadership and Research Expertise to White House Water Summit

Water researchers at UT Austin are leading or participating in six “commitments” that the Obama administration is announcing today as part of the White House Water Summit. 

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AUSTIN, Texas — Water researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are leading or participating in six “commitments” that the Obama administration is announcing today as part of the White House Water Summit. In all, the White House is announcing approximately 150 commitments nationwide at the event, which coincides with World Water Day. 

Commitments were developed and proposed by academic researchers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and policymakers from across the country before the White House selected the final projects to be highlighted at the Water Summit. 

UT Austin submitted commitments to offer support, resources and expertise in several critical areas. The university has broad expertise in water-related research — from flood forecasting to hydroelectric energy and water safety to big data.

Two professors will represent UT Austin at the summit: David Maidment, an expert in surface water hydrology and a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering; and Michael Webber, the deputy director of the university’s Energy Institute and an associate professor in the Cockrell School.

The Water Summit was organized to help raise awareness of the importance of safe, sufficient and reliable water resources and to highlight how water affects all sectors of U.S. society, including agriculture, energy, human and environmental health, and national security. 

The six UT Austin-led commitments are:

•    UT Austin’s Center for Research in Water Resources is working with Esri and Kisters North America Inc., in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to develop a national flood model that enhances flood forecasting by integrating flood data. The goal is to launch a pilot version later this year. 

•    Guided by UT Austin Professor David Maidment, the National Science Foundation-funded Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science Inc. and the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science will work with NOAA and other federal agencies to analyze the nation’s land-surface elevation — an important step in being able to add real-time flood-inundation mapping to the National Water Model. 

•    The Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), part of UT Austin’s IC2 Institute, is launching a water technology incubator called ATI Water to accelerate the development of innovative water startups. ATI Water will build a Texas-wide network of entrepreneurs and university-based water researchers. During the next five years, ATI expects to help create 500 new water-technology jobs through this network.

•    AccelerateH2O, in partnership with ATI Water and elequa, will launch three of seven planned regional hubs in Texas for demonstrating innovative approaches for water reuse, brackish desalination and aquifer recharge in rural communities, optimization of water systems, and smart irrigation. AccelerateH2O will work with these hubs to engage 500 youth and student “water innovators” to expedite commercialization of early-stage breakthrough water technologies and launch competitions to address water challenges. 

•    The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is announcing a partnership with Pecan Street Inc. to gather data and conduct analysis to help 50 households in Houston and Austin understand the connection between their water and energy use. In addition, EDF will work with UT Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of California, Davis to help water providers in several major Texas cities better manage the energy use embedded in their systems.

•    UT Austin Associate Professor Michael Webber will partner with Itron to create and distribute an interactive curriculum that teaches key concepts about water and energy for K-12 students, colleges, industry and the general public. This curriculum will combine traditional content with multimedia components. Itron will make the app-based curriculum available free of charge, with a goal of reaching at least 10,000 students in 2016 and expanding globally in 2017.

UT Austin’s projects, along with the other commitments, will help the country plan for a more sustainable water future. According to the White House Office of the Press Secretary, in order to “reduce and mitigate the incidence and impact of water stresses on U.S. communities, it is essential to develop, implement and deploy the type of sustainable, integrated and long-term water-management strategies that will be highlighted during the Water Summit.” 

The Water Summit will take place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on March 22, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT. The event will be broadcast live at www.whitehouse.gov/live/white-house-water-summit.