Arizona State University Tackles Water Sustainability with WaterSim
Meghan Brown posted on April 12, 2017 | 3045 views

Modeling and simulation are vital parts of every engineering toolbox, enabling engineers to perform analyses, create models or perform testing on systems and products without requiring a physical prototype.

But what can you do if you want to model solutions to a problem, but there isn’t a tool that fits quite right? If you’re the engineering researchers at Arizona State University, you build your own.

ASU developed their WaterSim model and visualization tool to help solve issues surrounding the sustainability of water resources in Central Arizona, which is facing impending challenges from drought, climate change and supply and demand. The tool collects data on water supply and demand as well as climate factors, population and policy decisions, and presents it in a dynamic system-level view of the region and its water resources. WaterSim is intended to help civil and environmental engineers, city planners and policy makers explore the possible outcomes of water infrastructure and policy changes, providing them with the tools and information necessary for planning future projects.

In the video above, ENGINEERING.com spoke with Liz Marquez from ASU at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, where she gave us the run-down on WaterSim and how it works.

“It’s all about checking the trade-offs,” said Marquez. “We bring engineers and practitioners, and also our academics, and bring them together using [WaterSim] so they can consider the decisions they’re making, and the impacts these decisions will have into the future.”

Even though the visualizations for WaterSim are simplified for the interface, “it really takes in a lot of data,” Marquez said, including regional population, reservoir levels and water resources from the Colorado, Salt and Verde Rivers.

“Then we have charts that are generated based on the conditions that are selected through the policy choices. At that point, everyone can look and see the impact on supply, demand, sustainability, and can be looking at those climate change impacts,” Marquez added.

An example of the WaterSim interface. (Image courtesy of ASU.)
An example of the WaterSim interface. (Image courtesy of ASU.)

All of this data, and the ability to see how it relates and how the variables interact, will be vital to future infrastructure and city planning projects.

“When engineers are developing infrastructure to carry water, they need to know where that water is coming from.  And, as conservation measures are implemented within municipalities, the infrastructure will be affected by that, because it was built for a certain level of water.  It’s interesting and important to see these impacts on the infrastructure,” said Marquez.

The WaterSim project is part of ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) which has the mission of advancing knowledge and decision-making for water sustainability and urban climate change adaptation.  The DCDC and the WaterSim project are partially funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF), under it’s Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) program.

To learn more, or to try out the WaterSim tool for yourself, visit the Arizona State University’s WaterSim website.

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