Sen. Shelby helps break ground on NOAA project

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and UA President Robert Witt break ground at the NOAA facility near Bryce Hospital. CW | Eric Yaron

Government officials, academic leaders and even the first American woman to walk in space all met Tuesday morning for the groundbreaking ceremony of the new National Water Center on the campus of The University of Alabama.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the building will be the first of its kind to combine hydrological forecasting operations and research under one roof.

NOAA Deputy Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, UA President Robert Witt, Associate Director for Water of the United States Geological Survey William Werkheiser and Deputy Director of the National Weather Service Laura Furgione met for the groundbreaking ceremony at the building’s future site between the Riverside Residential Community and Shelby Hall.

Representatives of both NOAA and the USGS as well as members of various other agencies involved in water services will staff the new 60,000-square-foot complex.

“This building is another major step forward.” Werkheiser said. “This is a place where all of the best minds in our agencies can come together to deal with those [water-related] issues.”

As the first building of its kind, the National Water Center will allow the National Weather Service, in association with other federal agencies, to provide more effective emergency notifications to the public in the event of major flooding or other water-related natural disasters. These notifications will include highly detailed maps outlining the anticipated paths and effects of future floods allowing for faster and more effective evacuations.

Senator Shelby expressed his belief in the importance of the center and emphasized to the assembled lawmakers just how crucial the research conducted there will become.

“It’s not what we build here or start today, it’s what comes out of this building.” Shelby said, “Information, forecasting and knowledge which will help our economy, help our people and help our nation.”

With the aid of these and other projects within the National Water Center, communities will become more resilient to floods and NOAA’s stated goal of creating a ‘Weather-Ready Nation’ will move closer to becoming a reality.

The University’s involvement in this project does not stop with the building’s location. In addition to helping advance hydrological research nationally and mitigating the effects of water-related natural disasters, the center will be serving the University of Alabama community as well. The National Water Center will open up opportunities for faculty and students to become involved in research currently being conducted by national agencies regarding the effects of water on our nation.

“Water resources present our society with some of its biggest challenges,” Witt said. “The National Water Center that will be built on the UA campus will assist in meeting those challenges while providing a mutually beneficial research relationship between faculty and students from UA and other institutions and the experts with NOAA and other federal water experts.”
The National Water Center is expected to be completed sometime in mid-2013 and will begin operations shortly thereafter. Senator Shelby expressed his hope to return to the campus in the future to witness this monumental building in full operation.

“We’re bringing a lot of the study of water, how water interacts with the atmosphere, how it interacts with droughts and how it affects the economy and the whole nation right here in Tuscaloosa,” Shelby said.