University of Virginia Joins Consortium Addressing Global Water Issues

September 29, 2011 — The University of Virginia has joined the Aqueduct Alliance, a consortium of leading water experts from the public and private sectors, non-governmental organizations and academia.
Organized by the environmental think tank the World Resources Institute, the initiative brings together watershed stakeholders in an effort to assess and respond to increasing global water risks and shortages. The water information generated by the alliance will help industries and governments develop better water conservation and usage strategies and practices. 
In addition to working with Goldman Sachs and General Electric, the Aqueduct Alliance has enlisted as members Bloomberg, The Dow Chemical Company, Talisman Energy and United Technologies. The Coca-Cola Company is providing an extensive global database of once-proprietary water risk information to support Aqueduct's work.
U.Va. is the first university invited to join the alliance, and is taking a leading advisory role in the use of computer simulations for helping resource managers make holistic decisions regarding watershed stewardship.
U.Va. faculty and students have developed a watershed sustainability computer simulation project for the Chesapeake Bay – called The UVA Bay Game  – that is serving as a model for bringing people together to understand how the decisions of individual stakeholders affect environments, and how stakeholders with separate motivations can work collaboratively to sustain shared resources.
"It's becoming clear that pooling our shared interests in watershed data and the application of that data can lead to powerful innovations in global sustainability and business development," said Jeffrey Plank, U.Va. associate vice president for research.
As global populations grow and climates change, governments and companies are increasingly aware that water is becoming one of the most contested  resources on the planet, and that creative collaborations between otherwise competing interests will be needed to mitigate risks. 
The Aqueduct Alliance is developing a global database of water risk information for 15 major watersheds across the globe that will allow stakeholders to develop highly detailed water risk maps, capturing the social, economic and governance factors that affect companies and economies. The watersheds are in areas with high populations and population growth and large economic productivity, such as the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China, the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia and the Colorado River in the Western U.S.
The UVA Bay Game matches this objective by allowing visualization of highly complex environmental data, coupled with the environmental effects caused by individual decision-makers. It is a participatory computer simulation representing the seven major watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay and the stakeholders in the six-state bay region. It demonstrates to players how their actions and decisions as role players – farmers, policymakers, land developers, watermen – affect the short- and long-term health of the bay as well as their personal finances and the regional economy.
"The game allows players to experience the Chesapeake Bay watershed from new perspectives, rather than simply as users of its resources," Plank said. "By joining the alliance, we are taking the potential of this game to new levels and applications beyond the university classroom to the world at large. We've entered a partnership with a select group of public, private and non-governmental actors in sustainability."
On Tuesday, UVA Bay Game project managers presented the game to members of the Aqueduct Alliance at World Resources Institute headquarters in Washington, D.C., allowing them to experience how the framework of the game might apply to other watersheds. U.Va. currently is adapting its Bay Game project to examine water allocation decision-making factors in the Murray-Darling Basin, one of the world's major watersheds.
"During the demonstration we saw the power of trying to solve complex environmental problems through a simulation game involving multiple players," said Charles Iceland, Aqueduct Alliance project manager at the institute.
He said the game helps players personally experience how their decisions – and those of the other players – are interconnected and affect each other and the environment.
"It gets you thinking in new ways about your actions, the effects of the decisions you and others make," he said.
Iceland added that U.Va., with its vast expertise, can provide support, advice and feedback to alliance projects, helping to build synergy between its members.
"What the Bay Game does – and this is the goal of the other versions we plan to develop – is help people understand that's it's not just about 'me and my water,' " said Gerard Learmonth, a systems and information engineering professor in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science, who designed and continues to build, modify and adapt the game. "It's about the bigger picture, that stakeholders can work together to sustain the resources on which we are all dependent."
— By Fariss Samarrai

Media Contact

Fariss Samarrai

Office of University Communications