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Professor to lead sustainable water project with $2.2 million fund

Characklis, who teaches environmental science and engineering at UNC, will lead a team on a four-year project to develop strategies for managing the water supply in the southeastern United States.

“The overall objective is to come up with strategies for sustainable water use,” Characklis said.

The official decision to grant Characklis and his team the money was announced in July, although Characklis said he has been working with local water utilities for 10 years. Droughts in the area have become more common in recent years due to population growth and increased economic activity, making conservation more important, he said.

“I hope to expand on the work already being done. This project will allow us to dig a little deeper,” Characklis said.

Characklis said the project will face challenges.

“The trade-off is that if we save water through conservation, revenues from selling water will decrease,” Characklis said.

Project team members will specialize in a variety of aspects of water supply, such as financial and environmental impacts. The group will also study water conservation and transportation.

Andrew Yates, an environmental economist at the University, is in charge of economic modeling for the project, including examining local supply and demand for water. He said he will compare the supplies at water utilities and the structure agreements for trading among them.

Lawrence Band, a professor of geography, will also take part in the project, studying how the watershed and stream flow in the area are affected by climate change and land use.

Band will also work with the U.S. Forest Service in order to monitor change in forest growth and how it affects water supply.

The team will include graduate students chosen and trained to help in each separate concentration of the project.

Despite distinct concentrations, the team’s efforts are collaborative, Band said. The team plans to combine its models and research to develop new practices that can be implemented right away.

“We’re taking part in environmental transitional research, which is fundamental research that produces immediately practical tools,” Band said.

Band said he was excited to win the grant and take the next step in translating the team’s research into functional application.

“This is a very competitive program in the National Science Foundation, and Greg has been a great leader,” Band said.

Now that the team has been granted the funding, Yates said the members can meet and decide the first steps for the project.

“The grant is a sort of road map of where we’ll be going,” Yates said.

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