By Michael May
The recent water resources challenges facing the nation have encouraged Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to introduce legislation reauthorizing over $7 million in grant funds for research at the country’s Water Resources Research Institutes. College and universities research potential methods to increase the efficiency of new and existing water treatment systems. The Water Resources Research Act of 1964 established Water Resources Research Institutes (WRRIs) at colleges and universities in each of 50 states. There are currently over 54 WRRIs in the U.S. developing studies that help improve water resources, whether it’s enhancing the nation’s water supply, developing innovative approaches to water treatment, or evaluating the dynamics of extreme hydrological events. The 1964 bill provided funding for research that addresses water issues, for the entry of new scientists into the water resources field, and for public access to federally sponsored research. The most recent water resource research authorization expired in FY 2011, leaving an important gap in funding for this area of investigation. The bill introduced by Senator Ben Cardin would reauthorize WRRI funds, as well as call on the institutes to explore alternative approaches to water treatment and water use efficiency.
Institutes such as the WWRI of the University of North Carolina System (WRRI N.C.) greatly benefit from the federal grants. WRRI N.C.’s research projects have included methods to improve water quality, water supply reliability, and pathogen removal in storm water. The projects conducted by WRRI N.C. have been essential to improving water resources in North Carolina. In 2011, WRRI N.C. produced a renewable hydrogel that can be used for water desalination and heavy metal removal from water. Through their research the scientists discovered that this type of extrusion method can potentially replace foamy processes such as freeze drying. The scientists determined the hydrogel could be more cost effective in extracting metal from water; however, further testing on a larger scale is still needed. If Senator Cardin’s bill is approved by Congress, WRRI N.C., along with the other 54 WRRIs, would have an opportunity to apply for federal grant funding to pursue further research.
Senator Cardin’s bill, the Water Resources Research Amendments Act of 2015, would amend the Water Resources Act of 1984 by authorizing appropriations for WRRIs through FY2020. The bill authorizes approximately $7.5 million per year for grants to each institute to fund research that fosters improvements in water supply, the exploration of new ideas that address water scarcity issues, and expand understanding of water resources. The bill would also provide $1.5 million per year for research focused on water issues of interstate nature. Additionally, the bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to report annually to various Congressional committees on whether each funding recipient complied with the federal funding matching requirement during the preceding year. Importantly, the bill requires a two-to-one match by applicants for every federal dollar they receive, making it the highest match requirement of any federal program.
According to representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, each State WRRI receives $92,335 federal dollars per year for their programs. The amount each state receives is calculated through a formula-based portion of federal yearly appropriations. In FY2014 WRRIs were provided with $6.5 million, which was $5.5 million above President Obama’s FY2014 request. Through this funding WRRIs were able to conduct more than 1,200 groundbreaking research projects.
In the past, grant money from this program has allowed institutes to provide a number of invaluable resources to the water research field. Previous research projects have improved and enhanced U.S. water supply by developing innovative approaches to water treatment, water conservation practices, and the assessment of costs related to extreme hydrological events. Through reauthorization research institutes will be able to address a multitude of issues related to water resources. Additional funding would allow WRRIs the ability to train more qualified scientists in order to tackle the most pressing water resource challenges facing the U.S. In their 50-year history WRRIs have produced groundbreaking research, developed innovative information, technology transfer programs, and provided training to more than 25,000 students.
In a press release, Senator Cardin remarked, “[A] half century after the Water Resources Research grant program was first put in place, this program is just as relevant to our economy and our environment, and just as critical to the health and safety of our communities”.
Senator Cardin introduced the bill on March 4, 2015 with cosponsor Senator John Boozman (R-AR). The bill moved quickly through the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 18th 2015 where Committee Chairman Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) issued a written report favorably supporting its passage without amendment. The Senate passed the bill without amendment by unanimous consent and subsequently sent it to the House, where it was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.
For more information regarding this article or The Water Resources Research Amendment Act of 2015 contact Michael May at Michael@warwickconsultants.net.