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Student during field research by Ethan Welty.

Global Warming and Water Conservation

Idaho Water Resources Research Gets Federal Funding Boost

One of the most pressing questions facing Idaho – and the entire world – is how climate change will affect water supplies. Scientists at the University of Idaho, however, aren’t just wondering – they’re finding out.

Over the next five years, scientists will take advantage of $15 million awarded to a collaboration between the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University to understand the current and future impact of climate change on the Snake and Salmon River watersheds.

“This grant is an excellent example of how the state of Idaho can serve as a natural laboratory,” says Jack McIver, University of Idaho vice president for research. “It also illustrates how scientists from different disciplines and institutions can come together to tackle today’s greatest challenges.”

And one of today’s great challenges is facing a future affected by climate change, sparking the new project. According to Von P. Walden, associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho and lead co-principal investigator, the project will focus on the effects of global warming on two very different watersheds in the state.

The Snake River Plain is a highly managed water resource that feeds agriculture and communities throughout the southern part of Idaho, while the Salmon River Basin is much less managed and contains some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the continental U.S.

“It is critical that we understand how different scenarios of future climate change might impact both managed and natural watersheds here in Idaho. A big component of this project is to effectively communicate our scientific results to decision makers and water users, so that they can ensure adequate water for future generations of Idahoans,” Walden says.

The study will draw on the strengths of each university while using the NSF funds to hire 10 new faculty and purchase equipment to generate research in new areas. The diverse research team will have a unique opportunity to focus on the many ways that climate change might affect Idaho. University of Idaho researchers will be involved in all three major research components of the grant: hydroclimatology, ecological interactions, and economics and water policy.

“We need a better understanding of how surface and ground water are connected. We’ll be looking at how groundwater might be used sustainably to get us through periods of future drought. This is a national issue that we can study right here in Idaho,” says Richard Allen, a research faculty member at the University of Idaho's Kimberly Research and Extension Center.

The grant was secured through Idaho’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). By combining the resources of the state’s major research and partner institutions, EPSCoR allows scientists to share resources and make their combined grant proposals more appealing to federal funding sources. The grant brings direct EPSCoR and National Institutes of Health Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program funding to the state of Idaho for building research infrastructure and brings total funding to more than $157 million since 1989.

“This exciting new award is an example of a lot of collaborative hard work on the parts of many of Idaho's citizens,” says Jean’ne Shreeve, Idaho EPSCoR/IDeA project director and professor of chemistry at the University of Idaho.

Together, the team of scientists plans to draw on Idaho’s natural advantages and its best and brightest to take on one of the state’s biggest challenges.

“Scientific research has shifted from whether or not global warming is occurring to what effects it will have in both the short and long term,” says Walden. “We have to learn how best to mitigate the effects and adapt to a changing world.”

To learn more, visit the EPSCoR website.