Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Proper management of water resources has become a critical issue, driven by population growth, urbanization, changing land use patterns, and climate change. The Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network, proposed for funding through the National Science Foundation, is one initiative that could provide advances in basic science needed to respond effectively to that challenge. The WATERS Network would integrate hydrologic observatories and experimental facilities across the United States, linking them with high-performance computing and telecommunications networks.

This National Research Council report, sponsored by National Science Foundation, finds that the WATERS Network Science Plan outlines a compelling vision for ways in which new, integrative hydrologic, engineering, and social science research can help address pressing water management concerns while advancing water science and education. However, the argument for the need to construct a simultaneously operated national observatory network is less convincing. The report recommends that the WATERS team bolster its case for a national network or consider other funding mechanisms that would allow phased construction. The WATERS team should also coordinate and collaborate with related government and nongovernment agencies and organizations at an early stage.

Key Messages

  • As the WATERS team goes forward, it should bolster its case that a national network of observatories is required to address the science questions that are posed. Alternatively, a different funding mechanism within the National Science Foundation might be considered, if feasible, for establishing a phased network of observatories that could address the questions posed in the WATERS Science Plan while taking better advantage of advances in technology over time.
  • The WATERS Network Science Plan succeeds in communicating a high-level vision for transforming water science and engineering research through the establishment of an observatory network.
  • The WATERS Network could serve as a catalyst for bringing agencies together to contribute to a broader integrated agenda.
  • The integration of social sciences with engineering and hydrology is a key benefit of the WATERS Network.
  • To enhance coordination and integration, the WATERS team should involve appropriate federal agencies, state and local governments, organizations, and international programs at an early stage.