CORVALLIS, Ore. – Natural resource researchers at Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho are gearing up for a late-summer summit aimed at addressing food, energy and water challenges as interconnected, regional issues.
The August meeting in Hermiston, Ore. – centrally located to many National Science Foundation-funded research projects – represents the second step of a collaboration that began with an April workshop in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Research offices at the three universities hosted the gathering, where scientists explored ways to partner with each other and with industry to address issues that affect regional economies as well as environmental and human health.
Stephanie Hampton from WSU and Andrew Kliskey from Idaho led the planning of the workshop, at which six teams combined to start five U.S. Department of Agriculture and NSF grant proposals on issues ranging from water conservation to energy infrastructure.
"We're really building a critical mass of researchers and research experience in the region," said Chad Higgins, an agricultural engineering professor leading OSU's role in the partnership. "The workshop was awesome. It exceeded all expectations with mind-blowing scientific discussions, new collaborations formed and new proposals floated. And now we have to keep it going because that was just the opening salvo, not the crescendo."
Topics for future exploration might be broad – such as, will the region have enough food in 2050? – or narrow, like tracing the impact of a single technology. For example, a more efficient system for irrigation could lead to less energy used for pumping and also result in more food being produced.
"The food, energy, water nexus is so huge that it's scary, but it's also exciting," Higgins said. "There are so many opportunities to look at things either in detail or to try to be broad and think about how the region will be influenced. We can bring each person's expertise together to predict pain points, like are we going to be scarce in any one resource in the future, and where?"
Janet Nelson, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Idaho, said the tri-state collaboration "will poise us to build relationships among researchers from all three universities with many areas of expertise in order to work toward solutions that improve communities, economies and lives."
"The University of Idaho is committed to examining issues that are critical not only to the people of Idaho, but also to the entire Northwest region, with rippling effects around the world," she said.
Those issues include how to best update aging hydropower plants and food production infrastructure.
Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at Oregon State, notes that when it comes to food, energy and water challenges, a solution in one location can lead to problems hundreds of miles away.
"That's why this demands regional cooperation," she said. "I am proud that our three land grant institutions are working together on these issues for a healthy Pacific Northwest."
Christopher Keane, vice president of research at WSU, echoed the sentiment and said he "looks forward to seeing the results of continued collaboration."
"Working across disciplines and institutions to ensure a sustainable supply of food, energy and water for future generations is a top research priority for WSU," he said.
In addition to the August event, the planning team is applying for external funding to support ongoing meetings to help sustain momentum.