NOAA constructing $23.5 million water center

The first federal national water resources facility in the country is currently under construction on The University of Alabama’s campus and is scheduled for occupancy in fall 2013.

Construction activities for the National Water Center began during summer and fall 2012, said Sam Contorno, physical scientist with the National Weather Service and liaison with the University on this project. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received a $23.5 million authorization to design, build and equip the facility. Due to schedule changes related to internal planning and design efforts, Contorno said the start of construction began later than initially anticipated.

“NOAA received appropriations in the 2009 and 2010 budgets to construct a facility on the UA campus in Tuscaloosa,” Contorno said. “We determined the facility would be an excellent opportunity to establish the NWC concept. The NWC is a new facility. Activities that will be conducted in the NWC are not currently performed at any one location.”

Joe Benson, interim provost and the UA vice president for research, said the NWC will benefit research efforts between UA experts, experts at other universities and others in the business.

“These research partnerships will also provide our students with research experience and opportunities they otherwise would not gain,” Benson said. “The Southeast, in particular, has experienced first-hand the tremendous hardships and economic damage that can be associated with floods and droughts. These are among the water resource issues that can be addressed through the center’s expertise.”

Contorno said the NWC will be designed specifically for major programmatic functions and will include an operations center with situation rooms, a geo-intelligence laboratory, collaborative science and software engineering studio, systems proving ground and a distance learning classroom and auditorium.

“The NWC will serve as a catalyst for the Integrated Water Resources Science and Services partnership,” Contorno said. “IWRSS, which consists of the NOAA, the U.S. Geographical Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers as its initial members, will unify and leverage each agency’s expertise and investments to improve water resource forecasts, understand how water moves across the land and rivers and facilitate creative and informed decisions, all utilizing the best available science.”

Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said the NWC will become the starting point for new hydrology research and operations in the United States.

“We are looking forward to enhancing our relationships with federal water agencies, The University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa community and the state of Alabama as we work together at the National Water Center to prepare America for the growing water management challenges we face,” Uccellini said.

While the NWC will be a part of the University campus, Contorno said staffing and expertise will be drawn from across the country and internationally.