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Arizona Water Innovation Initiative introduces statewide effort to address water concerns

The initiative's kickoff event will introduce the partnership between ASU, the Arizona government and numerous external partners while encouraging student engagement

The Arizona Water Innovation Initiative is now halfway through its "one year of innovation" for developing actionable solutions for water usage.

The Arizona Water Innovation Initiative is now halfway through its "one year of innovation" for developing actionable solutions for water usage.

Announced in November of 2022, the Arizona Water Innovation Initiative is a multi-year partnership and $40 million investment from the Arizona state government, ASU and various partners around the state to provide actionable, innovative and holistic solutions to Arizona’s water concerns.

The initiative is still in its infancy, and the official kickoff event is on April 25 in the Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health Auditorium. The event is an opportunity to meet the strategy team, see the partnered organizations and learn more about the long-term goals for the initiative. Students are invited to learn about future opportunities for engagement.

Dave White is the principal investigator and team lead for ASU in the AWII. He is also the associate vice president for ASU Knowledge Enterprise and is the director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. He will be a panel moderator for the kickoff event. 

"Our draft mission is to drive a thriving water future through discovery, innovation and action for the benefit of all Arizona," White said. "So working with President Crow and also the office of the governor at Arizona, we collectively designed and discussed over a period of more than a year how ASU could help respond to some of the critical water challenges that the state is facing and how the University could step up and help coordinate a statewide effort."

The initiative is loosely split into four pillars, with some sections cutting across and creating interdisciplinary solutions. These pillars, and the initiative as a whole, also work with external partners like Intel and NASA to collect data, work with communities or create actionable projects. 

Advanced Water Observatory 

Enrique Vivoni is a professor of hydrosystems engineering within the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and the director of the Center for Hydrologic Innovations. He is also the team lead for the Advanced Water Observatory pillar.

The goal of the pillar is to provide real-time water data for the entire state. "Think of this as both a physical space and an online space where we provide tools that help monitor and predict the hydrological conditions in our state," Vivoni said.

Vivoni said the observatory is meant to fill the gaps of current water observation systems, while also reacting to real time changes.

"Right now we're experiencing too much in our reservoir system from the Salt and Verde River, and who’s complaining?" Vivoni said. "But it's still water to manage and water to recharge into the groundwater system at the same time that the Colorado (River) is experiencing too little, so both extremes can happen simultaneously."

The strategy of this pillar centers around hard data and monitoring. 

"Our publications focus on data from sensors, data from satellites that orbit the Earth, modeling of hydrological systems, techniques in big data analytics or artificial intelligence machine learning as applied to water resources," Vivoni said. 

Once the observatory is built and established, it is meant to be used to guide water management decisions and predictions for the future. Currently, the observatory is in its hiring and structuring stage. Vivoni said there will be many opportunities for student involvement as the project progresses.

"We're going to hire undergraduates from many fields, you know, computer science and software engineer, and information technology, in addition to engineering. There’s going to be graduate student positions (and) postdoctoral positions," Vivoni said.

Arizona Water for All

Amber Wutich is a professor and director of the Center for Global Health. She is also the team lead for Arizona Water for All, the pillar of the initiative that works with water-insecure locations to develop accessibility solutions.

"My work is to partner with community organizations and communities to help understand what their problems with water are and how we can solve them using technology and community organization," Wutich said.

The Center for Global Health was already working on water accessibility solutions, especially with colonias, which are areas on the U.S.-Mexico border with underdeveloped water and infrastructure systems.

"The AWII essentially takes that work that's been ongoing and galvanizes it to the next level," Wutich said. "Arizona Water for All enables us to focus solely on Arizona and the specific needs of water-insecure communities in our state."

Some of the groups the pillar works with are Central Arizona Project, Communities Unlimited and the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.

Arizona Water for All is building on the work of the Center for Global Health, and furthering their projects, including one called MAD Water.

"(MAD Water) is an evidence-based solution that uses modular, adaptive and decentralized water technologies alongside social infrastructure to make sure that communities that don't have large-scale piped water infrastructure are still able to meet their water needs," Wutich said.

Cross-Cutting Pillars

While the AWII is largely organized into distinct pillars, the interdisciplinary nature of the project means that some of its work has to take place across multiple pillars. 

Sarah Porter is the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, which provides information about water policy to an array of audiences, from politicians to laypeople. They study the policy implications of the AWII's pillars.

"(Our other) part of the water initiative is to be public facing, to be pulling in engaging people who care and members of the public," Porter said.

Through its outreach efforts, the Kyl Center gives community partners the opportunity to influence the initiative.

Porter said this connection should also include students. "What I would love is for college students to tell me what information would help them to be engaged in water in a meaningful way," Porter said.

Jay Famiglietti is a professor in the School of Sustainability. He is the head of the second cross-cutting pillar, which is concerned with integration between the pillars.

"We need to be integrating those (pillars) together in a way that really helps us understand how much water Arizona has and how much it's at risk, how much is gonna be changing over time, so that we can deliver sort of overall assessments to the state," Famiglietti said. 

Edited by River Graziano, Greta Forslund and Caera Learmonth.

Reach the reporter at and follow @nerdyoso on Twitter. 

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