National extension program focuses on water challenges

By: Karen Bareford / Published: Mar 15,  2018

In the United States and around the world, water security is at risk. Too much water, too little water, or water of poor quality endangers life, property, economies and ecosystems. These threats to water security arise from several factors, including increased water demand from population growth and weather- and water-related impacts of climate variability and change. Unfortunately, these threats to water security are intensifying, and risk is difficult to predict when coupled with the already complex natural water cycle.

In an effort to begin addressing these risks, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant has joined forces with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The University of Alabama to create a National Water Extension Program (NWEP), based at the National Water Center (NWC) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The program is designed to foster collaboration among the organizations, communities and stakeholders who need water data and tools to help support their decision-making processes.

The National Water Center is designed to support collaborative water science, prediction and decision making.
The National Water Center is designed to support collaborative water science, prediction and decision making.

Related NOAA efforts

Over the last decade, NOAA has initiated a variety of efforts to address risks to the nation’s water security. The NOAA Water Initiative (NWI) is designed to give people and governments better access to water information critical to their unique circumstances. Access to this information will advance the nation’s capacity to analyze and link critical data in ways, and at scales, previously not possible. Key in realizing the NWI is the NWC, a state-of-the-art facility that supports research and enables collaboration across federal water science and management agencies in unprecedented ways. The NWC provides improved preparedness for water-related disasters and informs high-value water decisions in communities, states, regions and the country.

A cornerstone in these efforts is the National Water Model (NWM), a continental scale hydrologic model that forecasts streamflow and other elements of the water budget at over 2.7 million river and stream elements. The NWM includes predictions and data for the entire water budget, including snowfall, snow accumulation, snowmelt, precipitation, soil moisture, infiltration, streamflow, flooding, inundation, storm surge and shallow groundwater levels, among others. The information provided by these programs will facilitate short-term actions and long-term planning to address water-related risks and manage water resources more efficiently and effectively.

The National Water Center is located at The University of Alabama.
The National Water Center is located at The University of Alabama.

The National Water Extension Program

The NWEP was created to augment these efforts, and to facilitate the delivery of resources that will allow communities and organizations to accurately and efficiently make vital short- and long-term planning decisions regarding the safety and security of their citizens and water resources. These rescores will allow individuals, governmental entities, emergency response personnel, resource managers and businesses to plan for and protect citizens, water resources, property and the long-term sustainability of public health, the economy and individual lives.

Through this partnership, NOAA, Sea Grant and university networks are being leveraged to expand the nation’s ability to develop solutions by learning about critical water issues, what data are needed to address these issues and what formats for delivering the data will best support decision-making.

Water is the great unifier; it is critical for all life. It connects the most inland agricultural fields and communities to the coast and beyond. As the country’s water infrastructure continues to age and society’s demand for water increases, water resource management challenges and conflicts are likely to increase. It is critical that communities manage risks and plan for the long-term sustainability and effective stewardship of shared water resources. The NWEP will ensure that the right data, and the decision support tools it enables, will provide the capacity for individuals and groups to analyze and plan in ways not previously possible.

*Note: The National Water Extension Program is a Sea Grant program run in coordination with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and The University of Alabama.


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