The FWI Vision

The Middle Fork Teanaway River, two hours east of Seattle.

Fresh water is essential for life and the organisms contained therein constitute valuable natural resources for economic, cultural, aesthetic, scientific and educational enrichment. The conservation and management of freshwater ecosystems are critical to the interests of all humans, nations, and governments. Fresh water is also critical for humanity beyond drinking water and habitat for aquatic organisms by being the fuel for hydropower systems, a resource for industrial use, and supplies for irrigated agriculture and recreation. However, fresh waters throughout the world have become an increasingly scarce resource and, as a consequence, the ecological goods and services they provide have come under chronic, severe and increasing stress.

Humanity is now facing a grand challenge in the future sustainability of freshwater resources, and we propose to launch a Freshwater Initiative (FWI) at the University of Washington to build and coordinate the necessary scientific and educational capacity to answer this challenge by better providing the science that supports water resource management and conservation, and to educate the next generation of scientists, managers, and policy makers into the future.

The FWI will be focused on three major activities: 1) a Faculty Cluster Hire across the College of the Environment, the College of Engineering, and UW Tacoma to strengthen freshwater-related science, engineering, resources management, and educational capacity in FW sciences at UW, 2) developing a UW Collaborative Innovation Network in Freshwater Sciences and Engineering to coordinate research efforts and leverage UW funding to bring UW faculty expertise to work on challenge-based research on, and solutions for, high profile water-related problems at local to international scales, and 3) developing UW Education in Science and the Human Dimensions of Freshwater Issues at both the graduate and undergraduate levels across the UW.


1) Faculty Cluster Hire in Freshwater Sciences

The FWI is initiating a faculty cluster hire among the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and UW Tacoma in the 2012/13 academic year. This cluster hire would seek to fill up to four faculty lines. Our vision is to attract world-class researchers working in FW disciplines that are underrepresented at UW presently, but which are typically transdisciplinary and critical to meeting the water-related challenges of the 21st Century. We have identified several such disciplinary themes that fit well with both the needs of individual units and the larger FW science community at UW. These themes include: ecohydrology, watershed ecology and river restoration, fluvial geomorphology, urban water quality, aquatic biogeochemistry, and continental hydrology.


Paddlers on Union Bay at the Seattle Campus.

2) UW Collaborative Innovation Network in Freshwater Resources

We are building a collaborative innovation network (CoIN) in Freshwater Sciences and Engineering to catalyze coordinated, multi-disciplinary research, teaching and outreach efforts from across our existing and new faculty. While discovery-based science will be the primary motivation of the research, we will engage scientists from across campus by emphasizing challenge-based research on, and problem solving for, specific high-profile ecosystems/problems with distinct science ‘needs’. Example projects span local to global scales in emphasis and include:

  • ecological and social responses to climate change, hydropower development, and fisheries management in large rivers of developed (e.g., Columbia River Watershed) and developing countries, i.e., Mekong River (Southeast Asia), Upper Nile River (Eastern Africa)
  • assessing the ecological and social responses to river restoration (e.g.  Elwha and Klamath rivers)
  • modeling the ecological and social responses to proposed river restoration (e.g., the Snake River)
  • alternative futures for water quality and quantity in urban and exurban environments (i.e., the Greater Seattle ecosystem; Puyallup watershed)
  • alternative futures for water quality and quantity in areas of major agricultural production (e.g., the Skagit and the Yakima Watersheds)
  • effects of climate change and changing land-use on global carbon cycling (e.g.,Amazon River Basin)

Funding to the FWI would be used to provide seed funding to multi-disciplinary teams for developing CoINs that contribute tangible research, problem solving, and teaching opportunities for a specific project, publish any high profile papers that represent low-hanging fruit emphasizing the multi-disciplinary perspective on the problem and, importantly, to write and submit a major research grant (>$2 million) that would fund the majority of the project activities. While there is considerable capacity for pursuing such multi-disciplinary projects at UW, the incentives to coordinate these activities simply do not exist at present; the FWI would provide these incentives.


Irrigated Farmlands in Eastern Washington.

3) UW Education in the Human Dimensions of Freshwater Resources

The FWI also provides an unparalleled opportunity to coordinate education in the science and human dimensions relevant to freshwater resources at UW. Developing a web portal that highlighted the complementary FW courses across the UW is an obvious and easy first step in this direction. Designing an undergraduate minor in freshwater ecosystem management and engineering could also be achieved in the short-term by coordinating existing courses on campus and providing a roadmap for students who seek to pursue a professional degree in FW sciences or policy. Developing a professional Masters degree in FW sciences and engineering could also be implemented as part of a FWI. In fact, the COE has started this discussion with CEE so substantial effort has been directed at this topic already.