So what is a water center, anyway?
IWRC is part of the National Institute of Water Resources, which is made of 54 water centers in all 50 states and US territories. Water centers are typically run out of land grant universities and are usually headed by faculty at that university. The water centers were founded in 1964 by the U.S. Congress to address the growing need for water research and development in the United States. Keep in mind that this was well before the Clean Water Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so this left the U.S. Geological Survey all alone to do the nation’s water research and monitoring. Consequently, the water centers were a shiny new research effort that were addressing the big problems of the day, like how to clean up water pollution (take a look at our archives to see the breadth of the projects IWRC supported in the early days).
Water centers came under the direction of USGS in the 1980s and continue to receive some federal support to maintain a federal-state partnership. We here in Illinois are run out the same office (and staff) as the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, which means we get to enjoy great collaborations on research without having to leave our office.
What does a water center do?
The water centers are intended to increase water knowledge and help young scientists and engineers enter water-focused careers. While this varies from center to center, one thing we all do is provide a small grants program out of our base funds. IWRC has titled this program Annual Small Grants, and these grants have resulted in some very interesting projects. Additionally, all water centers provide researchers in their state access to larger grants through the National Competitive Grants program run by the USGS. While the Sequester resulted in no National Competitive Grant awards this year, IWRC has sponsored many funded projects in the past.
So is IWRC only interested in research?
Besides research funding, IWRC performs outreach and education and liaises with national organizations on Illinois’ behalf. Every two years, we host an Illinois Water conference, which allows anyone interested in water from around the state to present research, share ideas, and make connections. We also host the Private Well Class, which helps well owners safely manage their water supplies, and SmallWaterSupply.org, which provides reliable information for small municipal and tribal water suppliers.
Some new outreach we’ve done this year include planning a drought workshop as part of a professor’s outreach requirements in his grant and some classroom visits to discuss stormwater and recycling. We’ve also sought to make this blog and our twitter feeds a constant source of information and news about Illinois’ water resources and opportunities. If you have ideas of projects we could help you with or have an item you’d like us to highlight, please contact us. We love to hear the water news in Illinois, and we really love to share it.