Towards Water Sustainability

ORGANIZATION NAME: Urban Data Visualization Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago

LOCATION: Chicago, Illinois, USA

SUMMARY: We will develop a collaborative modeling and visualization protocol to effectively address water sustainability. We balance precision and comprehension, integrating coupled human-hydrological systems science into practical planning deliberative processes, to help citizens, planners, and scientists jointly make sense of complex water problems and harness their collective creativity to innovate solutions.

PROBLEM SPACE: Water binds all living things together in a vast and complex web of plants, animals, soils, and air. Human ingenuity has successfully supported an increasingly global network of places for production and settlement, but has not adequately addressed the indirect effects on this web. Further, the growth enabled by human technological and social advances has brought about sustainability threats like water depletion, pollution, and flooding. Communities in metropolitan areas face increased variation in water quality and supply as a result of population, land use, and climate changes, along with piecemeal and ineffective water management strategies. Meanwhile, suburban population growth increases demand for water from regional aquifers, lakes and streams, while expanding land cover intensifies the rate and severity of flooding. Local communities anticipate, prepare and cope with these problems, but often propose popular mitigation and conservation strategies that are untested or ineffective. Our approach seeks to transform water resources planning by bridging the divide between familiar simple conceptions of water problems and solutions, and a more sophisticated and practical understanding of the complexity shaping water sustainability. We embrace diversity as a resource for improved research, learning and judgment, using software to support the social and the informational processes of planning.

SOLUTION: We will design flexible and robust visualization and modeling tools representing coupled human-water systems, and examine how stakeholder groups combine them with their beliefs and values to advance water planning and policy. Building on our prior work, we will assess the robustness of existing hydrological models of the Chicago area, develop simpler and more flexible representations of these models, and couple them with land-use/cover and water-use decisions in one case study (DuPage County, Illinois). Simultaneously, we will evolve collaborative learning structures (visualization technology and facilitation strategies) to help stakeholders and policy-makers gain insight about the causal interactions between their resource use decisions and hydrology. We will study how participants use modeling and visualization in collaborative planning processes to understand and reason about the causes and effects of flooding and drought in DuPage, and to what extent they collectively engage in innovation and implementation of plans and policies that are sensitive to the complexity they face, identifying key technological and social features that better support this practice. We seek to ultimately package the computer applications and social learning process as a participatory modeling and visualization protocol for water planning that can be adopted in the Chicago region and beyond.

CONTACT: Moira Zellner, Director and Principal Investigator, [email protected]