Water and Watersheds Initiative

Oregonians are beginning to witness the difficulties caused by water limitations. Water quantity and quality issues in the Willamette and Klamath Basins are the Governor's top environmental priorities. This situation is paralleled around the world, and points toward a strong emerging area for growth in research, education, and outreach. OSU is ideally positioned to assume a leadership role in addressing water problems, with about 80 faculty in six colleges who teach and conduct research in areas related to water and watersheds and bring in over $11M/year in extramural funding. OSU is renowned for its landscape-scale ecosystems research and has just initiated five new graduate degree programs in Water Resources. These research and education efforts have all occurred without the benefit of programmatic coordination or strategic vision.

The Water and Watersheds Initiative is designed to leverage OSU's existing excellence in water and watersheds by

  1. providing coordination of water and watershed activities at OSU
  2. creating an innovative, place-based educational approach connecting a diverse student body with relevant issues across the state
  3. enabling capture of new, high-value opportunities for research, education, and outreach
  4. engaging OSU faculty and students with external stakeholders throughout the state
  5. establishing a set of shared water and watershed collaboratories supporting research, teaching and outreach

This initiative will grow external funding, increase the diversity and quality of OSU students involved in water resource activities, and advance OSU's Strategic Plan and Land Grant mission.

Coordination and leadership are key to achieving these goals. The Initiative will fund a new Institute for Water and Watersheds (IWW), led by a nationally prominent Director, to pull faculty and resources together to tap the huge potential for new funding. This institute will catalyze and support the growth of academic programs; state of the art laboratories; enhanced outreach to Oregon's communities; and development of real solutions for Oregon's critical water resource issues. The WW Initiative will create a physical and intellectual center for water at OSU that focuses faculty, students, facilities, and activities in a common location through four specific efforts: 1) a university-wide water services lab supported by a full-time technician that provides services to multiple researchers and teachers; 2) home offices for visiting scholars, fellows, and OSU faculty as necessary; 3) video-conferencing capacity for teaching, research, and outreach activities; and 4) co-location with the Institute of Natural Resources to provide links to policy, information, and research activities throughout the state of Oregon.

To create a diverse student population able to address complex water resources issues, the Initiative will fund the development of an innovative, multi-disciplinary learning environment through five specific mechanisms: 1) development of a place-based "platform for learning" in the Oak Creek watershed for integrating a water resources curriculum across multiple courses; 2) development of two new, interdisciplinary synthesis courses addressing relevant water resource issues in Oregon; 3) sponsorship of Diversity & Excellence scholarships to increase access and diversity in the water resources student population; 4) development of a common information repository integrating water resource courses, research activities and, outreach efforts designed to enhance student learning across multiple courses; and 5) support through a competitive funding process of activities designed to capture new, external resources focused on academic program innovation.

Initiative funding will allow OSU to leverage existing capabilities to help faculty move successfully into new funding arenas in five specific ways: 1) providing financial and staff support for multi-disciplinary, high opportunity funding; 2) coordinating with other units on campus to secure funding from non-governmental organizations and private sector sources; 3) using the USGS OWRRI as "seed money" for pilot projects to develop models, databases, and other information needed to support large, multi-disciplinary proposals; 4) working with the OSU Foundation and Colleges on the capital campaign to develop an IWW endowed chair, scholarship funds, and dedicated building; and 5) funding pilot projects each year to support faculty developing multi-disciplinary proposals for high-opportunity funding for research, teaching, and outreach efforts.

A central aspect of this Initiative is the development of new and innovative ways to engage stakeholders across the region: The Initiative will allow OSU scientists and students to connect with diverse decision-makers at the federal, state and local levels to provide solutions to Oregon's water problems through three activities: 1) incorporation of stakeholder needs and experiences into the Water and Watershed curriculum; 2) sponsorship of a series of collaborative workshops held around the state with federal, state and local stakeholders to identify partnering opportunities for addressing high-profile issues in Oregon; and 3) establishment of a biennial conference, co-sponsored with the Governor's Natural Resources Office to engage the Oregon legislature and state and federal agencies, to identify critical water and watershed issues in the State and develop strategies to address these issues.

The Water and Watersheds Initiative will fundamentally elevate OSU's current capabilities in realizing new opportunities and attracting new funding sources while better serving the needs of students and the state. The outcome will be a thriving academic engine built on current investments and existing excellence aligned with the OSU strategic plan - interdisciplinary collaboration; the land-grant mission; national and international dimensions; diversity; the environmental and economic health of the state, and will lead to a strong, self-sustaining unit that will continue to strategically leverage state investment to solve the water problems of the future.