USU Engineering Researchers Launch First Project Under New Water Institute
Oct. 25, 2022 — Researchers at Utah State University are creating a new hydrologic information system that will generate important new insight about the nation’s water resources.
The goal is to develop a set of tools that better enable those who operate water monitoring sites to manage large volumes of data and make that data accessible to others. Their vision is a system similar to the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program — a network of thousands of interconnected weather stations.
Associate Professor Jeff Horsburgh will lead USU’s involvement in a new national water institute. He and his colleagues are developing new cyberinfrastructure tools that will revolutionize how we collect, store, access and share water data. (USU/Matt Jensen)
“Water data are collected every day all over the country,” says Jeff Horsburgh, an associate professor jointly appointed between the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Utah Water Research Laboratory. “However, most of us who collect hydrologic data struggle with the day-to-day management tasks required to collect and share high-quality data products. We don’t have a common set of tools or standards for collecting, storing, or sharing that data, which limits what we can do. A national-scale hydrological information system will help with data access.”
As the Western U.S. sinks deeper into drought and severe flooding impacts communities in the East, the need for improved water management strategy has reached a critical point. Horsburgh says one of the most important steps in making better decisions about water is to create a robust water data management system.
“I’ve heard so many people say ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure,’” said Horsburgh. “I fully believe this. But I also know that better tools lead to better data and that we can’t realize the full value of those measurements if nobody knows about them.”
A current system operated by the U.S. Geological Survey tracks conditions in select waterways around the country. And while that system is the premier operational hydrologic data system in the U.S., it doesn’t accept data inputs from other sources. Horsburgh says a complementary system is needed to enable access to a broader range of water data.
Earlier this year, USU joined the University of Alabama and other partners to form the Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology, or CIROH. The institute will receive up to $360 million in federal funding over the next five years in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As a founding partner, USU will receive several grants to oversee CIROH projects.
“This is the first CIROH subproject awarded to USU,” said Horsburgh. “It’s a $750,000 grant that will fund our ongoing work in developing the cyberinfrastructure tools we need to integrate water data from collectors across states, public utilities, universities, watershed districts, local communities and more.”
USU is a global leader in water resources engineering and is home to the world-renowned Utah Water Research Laboratory, where USU’s CIROH-related research will take place.
The ultimate goal of a nationwide system is still several years away, but Horsburgh says he isn’t intimidated by the workload. In fact, he and his team have already made important strides toward this new hydrologic information system.
“We aren’t starting from scratch,” he said. “The ideas and technologies we’ve already developed, along with our strategic partnerships, put us in a great position to realize a national-scale hydrologic information system very soon.”