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The Katherine Bisbee II Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation Provides University of Portland an Opportunity to Safeguard Oregon’s Water Supply

By June 22, 2023June 27th, 2023No Comments

University of Portland’s Shiley School of Engineering professor Jordyn Wolfand and her students are helping conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest by partnering with Blue Forest Conservation to assess Oregon’s water supply risk and leveraging machine learning to inform solutions. This innovative research project is funded by the Katherine Bisbee II Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation in partnership with the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities (The Alliance).

Water supply challenges in Oregon, much like in other parts of the Western U.S., are becoming a pressing concern. With population growth, climate change, land use changes, and aging infrastructure, our drinking water supply is under threat. “We need to find ways to build resilience and tackle these challenges head-on,” said Assistant Professor in Civil Engineer Jordyn Wolfand. “That’s where this project comes in. We are grateful to the Katherine Bisbee II Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation and The Alliance for their support of this vital conservation project, helping us to safeguard the well-being of Oregon’s natural resources for future generations.”

The goal of the University of Portland and Blue Forest Conservation is to assess the vulnerability of water suppliers across Oregon to various natural, social, and built infrastructure hazards. By analyzing different datasets related to Oregon watersheds and water providers, they can help Oregon better understand the risks and vulnerabilities faced by each. This knowledge is essential for efficient communication and collaboration between water providers, state, regional, and local agencies responsible for resource allocation.

A public water system dealing with high social hazards may require financial assistance programs to help customers increase their resilience. On the other hand, a system facing wildfire risks and other natural hazards might benefit from grants from the Oregon Department of Forestry or the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Collaboration with Blue Forest Conservation could be a game-changer for those facing high wildfire or other natural hazards, helping them develop solutions in partnership with land managers for watershed and forest management.

So far, UP and their industry partner have made significant progress. They’ve developed two comprehensive datasets to drive their analysis: one focusing on public water systems (PWS) serving more than 500 people, and the other on the associated drinking water source areas (DWSA). These datasets include valuable information about population served, system types, primary sources, land cover types, risk factors like floods, landslides, and wildfires, and much more.

To understand the interconnections and dependencies between PWS, they’ve used a network graph. For example, if one city’s water commission faces a supply interruption due to wildfires, it could multiple other retail water agencies at risk. On the flip side, if a city has a diverse and redundant supply system, such as purchasing water from multiple sources, it boosts resilience.

Their ongoing work involves assigning risk values to DWSAs and converting them into overall risk assessments for each PWS. By applying clustering models to the data, they are identifying systems facing similar risks and support partnerships between water supply agencies. This collaborative approach helps state agencies allocate resources more effectively.

As they continue to make progress, they’ll synthesize their findings into a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. They’ll also produce maps highlighting priority water supply areas based on the types of hazards they face. This project is not just about research; it’s about making a tangible impact on Oregon’s water supply landscape. Further, as the students work to develop innovative solutions, the teamwork, faculty mentorship, and industry partnerships they experience will serve as a solid foundation for their future careers.

By understanding vulnerabilities, fostering partnerships, and optimizing resource allocation, the University of Portland and Blue Forest Conservation aim to build a more resilient and sustainable water supply system in Oregon. Together, we can ensure that future generations have access to clean and reliable drinking water.