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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan 1 Introduction One of the most critical issues facing the United States today is the proper management of our water resources. Water availability and quality are changing due to increasing population, urbanization, and land use and climate change. Despite the fact that overall water use in the United States has remained relatively constant since about 1980 (Hutson et al., 2004), shortages in water supply have been increasing in frequency in many parts of the country, in part because of population increases in coastal and arid to semiarid areas. Water quality is a concern in many of the nation’s waters due to excess levels of nutrients, toxics, pathogens, and contaminants from a variety of household products.1 As a society, if we are to meet current and future demands for water, we must learn to manage our valuable water resources more effectively. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has entertained the Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network as one possible initiative whereby NSF could provide the advances in the basic science needed to respond effectively to the challenge of managing water resources. The WATERS Network is one of several national observatory networks being planned under NSF sponsorship2 that are designed to collect and integrate the necessary data over the appropriate spatial and temporal scales to help scientists, engineers, and managers better understand, model, and forecast environmental processes. The WATERS Network is the result of a 2005 merger of two environmental observatory initiatives: the Collaborative Large-scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER) and the Consortium of Univer- 1 See http://iaspub.epa.gov/waters10/attains_nation_cy.control; http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/. 2 These networks include the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Geosciences Network, the Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI), and the Arctic Observing Network.
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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan sities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Incorporated’s (CUAHSI’s) Hydrologic Observatories initiative.3 WATERS is envisioned as an integrated national network of observatories supporting research, outreach, and education on large-scale, water-related environmental problems. Though the exact locations have not yet been determined, WATERS observatory sites would be some combination of: (1) large watersheds selected to represent a range of climatic, geomorphic, and land-use and land-cover characteristics; (2) coastal sites; and (3) urban water systems. These observatories would be sited within representative areas that could be compared and contrasted to address the program’s research questions. The network may also contain several experimental facilities that will enable research via manipulation of the water environment (WNPO, 2008). The proposed observatories would provide researchers with access to linked sensing networks, data repositories, and characterization and computational tools for integrated assessment modeling, connected through high-performance computing and telecommunications networks. As an additional benefit, the WATERS Network also has the potential to bring together and strengthen the hydrologic research community. The WATERS Network is a joint initiative of the Engineering directorate, Geosciences directorate, and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate at NSF. NSF originally proposed that the WATERS Network be built using funds from the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) appropriation which is available to NSF “for necessary expenses for the acquisition, construction, commissioning and upgrading of major research equipment, facilities and other such capital assets” (NSF, 2007). The lifetime of an MREFC project is made up of the following stages, as defined by NSF’s Large Facilities Manual (2007): facility/infrastructure concept development; project development; project construction/acquisition; facility/infrastructure operation; and facility/infrastructure renewal, upgrade, or phase-out/termination. 3 CUAHSI’s Hydrologic Observatories initiative is only one component of the consortium’s activities. Additional information on CUAHSI programming and projects that fall outside the Hydrologic Observatories and the WATERS Network is available online at http://www.cuahsi.org/.
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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan MREFC funds only cover the costs of project construction, although MREFC funding may also be provided for significant facility upgrades. In that case, the approval process is the same as that for a new MREFC project (NSF, 2007). The remaining phases of the project are supported with funding from the research budgets of the supporting directorates or with support from the Education and Human Resources directorate. At the time this report was written, the WATERS Network was in an early phase of the conceptual design stage (part of “facility concept development”). NSF staff estimated that the remaining steps of the MREFC planning process prior to construction would take about 10 years if the WATERS Network project were to successfully advance through the planning and appropriation process. STUDY SCOPE AND PURPOSE OF THIS REPORT In 2006, NSF requested that the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Water Science and Technology Board convene a committee to provide advice as the WATERS Network navigates the multiyear planning process for MREFC funding. This committee followed a previous NRC study (NRC, 2006), which identified potential research questions that the network might address. The current NRC committee, composed of experts in the fields of hydrologic and environmental engineering and science, coastal and marine science, biology, computer science, and social sciences, was originally charged to review a draft WATERS Network conceptual design plan, titled the Draft Science, Education, and Design Strategy for the WATERS Network (WNPO, 2008, also called SEDS). In 2008, the NRC issued an interim report evaluating the SEDS (see Box 1-1, Task #1; NRC, 2008) and recommended that the WATERS Network team narrow the scope of the compelling science questions to be addressed, define the nature of the transformative science to be accomplished, and clearly describe the path to achieve the envisioned results. Subsequently, the WATERS Network team refocused its efforts toward the development of a vision-level Science Plan, and in response to a request from NSF, the statement of task for the NRC committee was modified to include the review of that document. The committee met two times, in February and June 2009 to discuss the document with NSF staff and the WATERS leadership team. The final draft of the Science Plan (Dozier et al., 2009) was released in May 2009. The NRC agreed to
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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan BOX 1-1 Statement of Task In response to NSF’s request, the Water Science and Technology Board has assembled a committee to: Review the draft report on conceptual design for the WATERS Network and associated planning documents, including project office committee reports and reports prepared by CUAHSI to be supplied as “background” information. This review will include an assessment of the adequacy of the design plan relative to the stated mission and goals of the WATERS Network, the grand challenges it is being established to address, and the specific science questions and environmental drivers on which the design is based. Review the WATERS Science Plan, and the associated documents to be provided (e.g., WATERS Network Project Office committee reports on education, modeling, etc.), to assess whether the Science Plan makes a compelling case for establishing the WATERS Network with Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction funding. The Science Plan should articulate grand challenges that will attract widespread support; provide a foundation for formulation of second-level science questions; and set forth a vision of what could be accomplished with an observing network to transform water science and engineering research and education. Advise the WATERS Network Project Office and NSF on how the WATERS Network can be integrated efficiently and effectively with the observational programs related to water resources of other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector, considering the different missions of these agencies (including NSF, whose “mission” is to support fundamental research and education). provide quick advice on Task #2 of the statement of task (see Box 1-1), and a letter report was issued in July 2009 that summarizes the committee’s assessment of whether the Science Plan “sets forth a vision of what could be accomplished with an observing network to transform water science and engineering research and education” and “whether the Science Plan makes a compelling case for establishing the WATERS Network with Major Research and Facilities Construction (MREFC) funding.” The letter report is provided in Appendix A.
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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan This report, the committee’s final, provides a more detailed review of the Science Plan (Task #2) and provides advice on collaborating with other federal agencies (Task #3). The assessment contained in this report is based on the collective expertise of the committee members, their review of planning documents supplied by the WATERS Network Team, and presentations and discussions with NSF staff; the WATERS Network leadership team; representatives from federal agencies with programs related to WATERS; and leaders from other MREFC efforts, such as NEON, OOI, and EarthScope. In March 2010, as this report was nearing completion, the assistant directors of the Engineering, the Geosciences, and the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorates announced that “NSF has decided not to move forward with WATERS as an MREFC project at the present time” (T. Peterson, T. Killeen, and M. Gutman, NSF, personal communication to Jeff Dozier, 2010). NSF cited the committee’s 2009 letter report (Appendix A), and stated, “In particular, we were not convinced that the simultaneous construction of the entire infrastructure of a national network is essential to answer the science questions posed by WATERS.” They concurred with NRC (2009), which stated, “it is probably more sensible to build the network incrementally and let the questions and experiments evolve in an adaptive framework. This approach, which is not constrained by MREFC timelines for design and construction phases, could take better advantage of advances in technology over time, such as for sensors and components of the cyberinfrastructure.” NSF also noted that an incremental strategy for implementation would have a potentially less disruptive impact on the directorates’ budgets than the sudden increase in operations and maintenance costs in an MREFC approach. However, the assistant directors stated that they “remain strongly committed to addressing the important scientific questions outlined in the WATERS Network Science Plan.” The committee structured its evaluation around several key points that are seen as critical for the WATERS Network as it moves forward in any form, including via more incremental steps outside of the MREFC process. First and foremost, the science questions and challenges put forth in the Science Plan are evaluated (Chapter 2). Identification of the fundamental science questions is an essential step in the development of the WATERS Network. Second, the committee explored the idea of a “network” and how the Science Plan is successful in describing the characteristics that define the unique attributes of the proposed WATERS Network (Chapter 3). Third, because the primary option envisioned for securing funding for WATERS was the MREFC Program, the committee
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Review of the Waters Network Science Plan evaluated the Science Plan with respect to meeting required criteria for this program (Chapter 4). Much of Chapter 4 summarizes and expands upon the advice provided in the committee’s 2009 letter report (NRC, 2009). Although the material may seem outdated by the recent NSF announcement, the text is included for completeness and to communicate the committee’s expectations for a network under the MREFC program, if such an initiative is again pursued in the future. There is overlap between Chapters 3 and 4, in that part of the MREFC criteria relates to the need to have a network. In addition to the network concept, however, the MREFC requires that WATERS be a facility, which adds an additional layer of refinement. Finally, the committee considered potential linkages of WATERS with a host of other programs (Chapter 5). Because water resources are so critical for many sectors in the nation, the need for WATERS to coordinate with state, national, and international entities presents a tremendous opportunity but also offers daunting challenges.