College of Engineering

Water Institute of Texas symposium at UTSA explores long-term issues, solutions

by KC Gonzalez
Public Affairs Specialist

The Water Institute of Texas (WIT) brought local, state and national experts to the UTSA Downtown Campus on October 4, 2013 for a daylong symposium to share insight into Texas’ primary water issues: long-term water availability and water regulation. Seventy-five people attended the first public event hosted by WIT since it was launched in 2012.

According to Tom Papagiannakis, WIT interim director and Robert F. McDermontt Professor and Chair of the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “We have brought in experts from across the country to discuss the state of the art in water science and how to apply these principles in everyday life. New technology can predict floods and give us an overview of how to control our water. Technology is very important in helping us determine how much water we have and how to better manage it. Technology can give us solutions.”

The Symposium stimulated a frank discussion on how existing water supplies can be combined with the available water harvesting and transporting options in San Antonio and the surrounding region. To satisfy future water needs in this area, topics of discussion included projected population increases, as well as the anticipated changes in industrial activity (including power generation) and agricultural use.

UTSA environmental science doctoral student Sepehr Rezaeimalek said, “As a Ph.D. student, I am going to work on numerical simulations and see how some of these well-known people are doing their simulations. Their approach was quite impressive. Overall, in a nutshell, I found the presentations very helpful and useful.”

Mauli Agrawal, interim UTSA vice president for research, welcomed the audience and Kevin Wolff, Bexar County commissioner, set the stage. “San Antonio and Bexar County lead the way in water conservation for the state, if not the nation. In fact, over the last 20 years, San Antonio has doubled in size and yet we consume the same amount of water we did 20 years ago. So that tells you that over time, we’ve been able to institute a culture of conservation.”

Soroosh Sorooshian, director of the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing and Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, provided the keynote presentation on long-term water availability. Other experts, addressing the same topic, included David Maidment, Hussein M. Alharthy Centennial Chair in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin; Dan Hardin of the Texas Water Development Board; and Alan Dutton, WIT assistant director and chair of the UTSA Department of Geological Sciences.

Robert Gulley, recently retired executive director of the Habitat Conservation Program at the Edwards Aquifer Authority, provided a keynote presentation on the history of the water regulatory environment. Additional experts speaking about water regulation included Robert Puente, CEO of the San Antonio Water System; Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority; and Francine Romero, associate dean of the UTSA College of Public Policy.

“The importance of the issue cannot be overstated given the vital role of water in the future growth and prosperity of the San Antonio metropolitan area,” Papagiannakis said.