The Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions (WEES) Initiative

AIR manages the Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions (WEES) initiative at the University of Arizona, which is funded by state sales tax revenues through the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) administered by the Arizona Board of Regents. For FY22-FY24, WEES support will focus on the following six areas (described in detail further down).

In FY22, WEES funding will be used to support new faculty salary and startup; new and not yet sustainable initiatives, centers, and institutes; targeted grants and awards; and competitive grants. In addition to the AIR-administered competitive Resilience Grants, WEES plans to fund select relevant and highly-ranked proposals submitted through RII’s Internal Funding program, including Faculty Seed Grants, Workshop Support, Equipment Enhancement Fund, Challenge Grants, and Production Grants.

In addition to supporting AIR’s mission of supporting interdisciplinary groups, including off-campus partners, to develop practical, applied solutions that further resilience in our natural and human communities, all WEES investments will be evaluated with respect to the following ABOR performance measures:

  • Postdocs supported
  • Graduate students supported
  • Undergraduate students supported
  • New Sponsored Project funding
  • Publications in Academic Peer-Reviewed Journals
  • License and Options
  • Startup companies, investments, and FTEs

A final point of evaluation will be whether the funding would be a responsible use of Arizona taxpayers’ money.


Resilient Systems Integration

Problem

As energy demands, food scarcity, and climate variability increase, the means to create and maintain reliable and resilient energy delivery systems, food production systems, and water supplies sufficient to sustain and enhance our society, our economy, and our ecosystems are of paramount importance, especially in regions like Arizona and the Southwest. An integrated and aggressive approach that incorporates economic considerations is required to solve these problems, especially as this region is home to many communities that are particularly vulnerable to such changes. At the same time, we are surrounded by an abundance of conventional and renewable energy sources; mature and increasingly sophisticated agricultural, mining, and energy production economies; and abundant non-potable water sources. Current policies do not address the imbalance of supply and demand of resources that are perceived to be at risk or the real costs of environmental impacts; however, supporting opportunities for cooperation in this area could yield some of the highest and near-term gains.

Program Goals

WEES aims to support activities that:

  • develop new materials, technologies, and operations targeted to energy-efficient water reuse and purification for all sectors;
  • develop smarter data and decision-making platforms with robust links to policy and decision-making processes for water and energy production and use;
  • integrate new science and technology with policy development, decision making, and education;
  • produce new designs for a more resilient and efficient future urban and rural environment;
  • create regional test beds and new public-private partnerships.

Building Resilience from Environmental to Human Health

Problem

Arizona’s changing climate, population, demographics, and land use patterns, as well as sudden shocks to the system from pandemics, heat waves, wildfires, and other natural phenomena, bring a continuous stream of health challenges to our communities. People are moving closer to the urban/wild interface, and changing climate brings new or more intense natural hazards and new vectors for disease transmission into our region. Communities need reliable information about the nature and extent of threats, the economic costs of threats and possible counter actions, where the greatest vulnerabilities lie, and scenarios for building resiliency to their effects. Furthermore, resource use and extraction industries are critical to the Arizona economy, but have an impact to our environment that needs to be addressed.

Program Goals

WEES aims to support activities that:

  • advance our understanding of the impacts of heat, drought, and other climate impacts, as well as of sources of contaminants to water, air, and food systems, in order to help develop early warning systems that preempt environment-human crises;
  • collaborate with communities to develop mitigation strategies;
  • produce scenario evaluation tools and build community education programs;
  • develop new approaches to mining and reclamation that will enable these industries to prosper while protecting our environment.

Observation Systems for Resilience Monitoring and Modeling

Problem

We can better prepare for change if we are able to monitor it in real time. Data related to weather, water resources, soil and vegetation conditions, air quality, greenhouse gasses, wind and solar energy, and other conditions allows us to predict what we might expect in the future and plan accordingly. Scientists are now developing methods to provide data and forecasts at shorter-term and more local scales useful to farmers, utilities, and resource managers. A critical step is collaboration between data collectors, data modelers, and data users to ensure that the quality, format, and parameters of the data products are optimized to users’ needs.

Program Goals

WEES aims to support activities that leverage UA’s existing strengths and programs in order to:

  • develop a regional-scale climate forecasting center;
  • produce energy forecasting products codeveloped with utilities;
  • develop science, policy, economic, and technology solutions to help monitor and manage greenhouse gas emissions;
  • develop more refined local-and regional-scale climate, weather and other models;
  • grow partnerships with communities to codevelop data and information products that allow them to make decisions based on greater understanding of probable conditions.

Future-Proofing Arizona Water

Problem

From farmers and ranchers to tourists, developers, miners, and legislators, Arizonans are concerned about the state’s water supply. We seek reliable supplies of clean water for our municipalities, industries, and ecosystems. We seek new technologies to treat contaminated water and new means to use it more efficiently and distribute it equitably. The science and technology of clean and reliable water is extremely important, as is having people understand the options and trade-offs associated with alternative pathways forward and encouraging the exploration of creative new ways to manage water in the state. Adequate preparation for the changes and challenges we face in the future requires institutional actions informed through collaborations and communications among the science, technology, and policy communities.

Program Goals 

To promote ensure a reliable and safe water supply for all Arizonans, WEES aims to support activities that:

  • form new types of partnerships between scientists, engineers, and policymakers;
  • produce concept papers that connect science to policy and bring science to bear on addressing and resolving water management challenges;
  • commercialize new water treatment technologies;
  • promote a greater diversity of voices influencing water resources management;
  • engage in innovative partnerships with the private sector.

Adaptable Desert Communities, Cultures, and Ecosystems

Problem

For humans to continue to live in arid lands, we must understand how we can be resilient to impacts associated with climate change and other stresses affecting the linked human and natural systems of the desert. Many changes that will eventually affect the rest of the world are starting here in the arid Sonoran Desert; our experiences can inform communities across the globe. Integrated research, education, and outreach grounded in community needs is necessary to guide actions, policies, and decisions that preserve and enhance these linked cultural and ecological systems.

Program Goals

Recognizing our history and living-laboratory location in the Sonoran Desert, WEES aims to support activities that:

  • draw upon our geographic heritage, experience, skills, expertise, and relationships with Southern Arizona communities to provide resilience solutions for arid lands in other parts of the world;
  • establish joint science, culture, and art programs, especially ones that take advantage of our unique Biosphere 2 and Tumamoc Hill facilities
  • form transdisciplinary university/stakeholder working groups to accelerate innovative solutions to the challenges of future life in the desert;

Fostering Leaders in Resilience

Problem

Arizona is home to a diverse population with varying strengths, interests, and vulnerabilities. Preparing for a resilient future requires our next generation of leaders and decision makers to reflect that diversity and be able to communicate across sectors and disciplines. STEM training is necessary, but with fluency that goes beyond just STEM. New cross-disciplinary fields are emerging that mix science with technology or policy, for example, and we need to draw students into them. Students, in turn, seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities even before they graduate.

Program Goals

WEES aims to support activities that:

  • increase diversity in existing scholarship and internship programs;
  • design and implement experiential learning courses and curricula;
  • expand internship programs to include more opportunities, especially with underserved populations and for less advantaged students;
  • offer more leadership training and mentoring for junior faculty;
  • grow programs to reach K-12 students in STEM and attract them to the university;
  • create and offer new environment-focused courses that allow high school students to gain UArizona credit