Rising Waters: University-Agency Partnerships for Innovative Water Quality Solutions
Envision the Future: Water agencies, utilities, and public service providers currently face unprecedentedly complex challenges that require new ways of identifying and implementing sustainable water solutions. University partnerships have a vital and relatively untapped role to play in identifying new ways forward. Academia brings unique resources— professors, students, laboratories, research libraries, curriculum, neutrality — to help tackle a myriad of profound challenges faced by local communities. As Rick Scott, former Director of Urban Development in Salem, Oregon said, working with universities “moved us closer to our goals of a safe and livable community, a vibrant economy, and a healthy environment.” (Rick Scott,).
How do we engage in partnerships that create meaningful outcomes for agency and university participants? Rising Waters, a new initiative launched in August, brings academic resources to assist in finding new solutions to emerging complex public interest issues. The initiative emerges from a 7-year collaboration between Sonoma State University and Sonoma Water engaging 3,164 students and 50 faculty in disciplines across campus to work with over 30 community partners on water-related projects (cei.sonoma.edu/waters) on topics such as pollution, flood, drought, and restoration. Rising Waters takes the collaboration deeper and broader. It engages regional water leaders to generate foundational outcomes and meaningful improvement in ‘beyond compliance’ understanding needed to address water-related sustainability and resilience challenges of the North Bay.
Main Ideas: The core of the Rising Waters approach is to apply cross-disciplinary study to address issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries and disciplines. Projects are collaboratively identified and addressed by a Working Group composed of water agencies, organizations, and universities that identifies an existing challenge and works with faculty-student teams to gather data, brainstorm solutions, and summarize results. The approach takes advantage of cross-disciplinary cross-sector discussions which are known to generate innovative ideas.
During its first year, Rising Waters will address the nexus of surface/storm water quality and people experiencing homelessness. Throughout California, increase in homelessness is testing the fabric of communities and the agencies, governments and organizations that serve them. Despite existing policies and approaches, “the worst outbreak of Hepatitis A in recent memory in California occurred in 2016-2018 due to open defecation and lack of handwashing facilities for persons experiencing homelessness” (Pacific Institute 2018). These are complex challenges that require multi-organizational and multi-disciplinary solutions based on the best information available. What is current extent of the problem? Who is affected? Who is spending resources and are they being spent wisely to address the crisis, and are there better efficiencies? Rising Waters is an opportunity to use the power of interdisciplinary study to develop viable solutions and enhance public awareness of the complexity of these issues.
Tools Ideas and Concepts: This presentation and discussion focuses on identifying areas of increasing complexity in water management, intentional methods for sparking innovative solutions, and options for university partnerships.
Format: After our presentation, we will encourage attendees to consider questions about how to engage University partnerships and resources to address water challenges in their areas, and collaborate expertise across disciplines and sectors.