Happy 20th Anniversary, CUAHSI!

Al Valocchi, April 8, 2021

I served on the Board of Directors for seven years, from 2014 to 2020, and served as Board Chair in 2015. In my early years on the Board, we worked with Executive Director Rick Hooper to guide CUAHSI through the ups and downs of early adolescence.  

As you read in last month’s remarks by Rick Hooper, some of the tantalizing opportunities for “big science” presented by NSF in the early years of CUAHSI fell victim to budget realities, so some of our big plans did not come to fruition. But some did, thanks to the perseverance of board members, our executive director and staff, funding agencies, and the community of researchers that we serve.

One of the original major programs envisioned was a “Water Data Center,” as there was clear consensus among researchers that access, publication, and use of disparate types of hydrologic data was a major bottleneck. Improving CUAHSI’s water data services was a priority for the Board, and there were many challenges due to evolving cyber-infrastructure hardware and software, data model standards, etc. CUAHSI scaled up the Hydrologic Information System (HIS), originally developed as a prototype under a research grant to Professor David Maidment, and this is now one of the main tools for time-series data discovery via the HydroClient map interface. CUAHSI is now supporting the HydroShare project, an NSF funded initiative led by Professor David Tarboton, to enable sharing, discovery and storage of all types of data and models. This project is key for achieving CUAHSI’s strategic goal to lead in water data services in support of interdisciplinary collaborative research. These successful experiences in linking the hydrologic science and hydro-informatics communities has led to a major achievement to mark CUAHSI’s 20th anniversary, namely, the selection by NSF to be the Coordinating Hub for the Critical Zone Collaborative Network.

Another important highlight from my early years on the Board were activities to promote community modeling, including several programs for collaboration with atmospheric and climate science. An important event in the history of CUAHSI occurred in July 2015, in a very warm and humid Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the National Weather Service’s National Water Center. Building on David Maidment’s vision, the National Weather Service’s National Water Center partnered with CUAHSI to sponsor a summer program that brought together faculty, graduate students, and NWC research staff to develop the next generation high-resolution flood model.  I attended the capstone event, where teams of students presented results from their summer projects. After the capstone concluded, I attended a lively meeting in an impressive ‘situation’ room in the NWC that included CUAHSI, NCAR, the NWC Director, and NSF, to discuss how to build on the success of this initial event. As we now know, the NWS has supported CUAHSI to continue this event, now called the National Water Center Innovators Summer Institute. The scope has expanded beyond high-resolution flood forecasting to advancing the National Water Model. I believe that CUAHSI’s connection with the National Water Model and the efforts of our current Executive Director, Dr. Jerad Bales, have provided great visibility and positioned CUAHSI as the recognized liaison to the hydrologic science community for federal agencies. Clear evidence is the key role that CUAHSI and Jerad played in the 2019 interagency workshop on “Integrated Hydro-Terrestrial Modeling.”  

In his remarks last month, Rick noted that the building of a cohesive community of hydrologic science is perhaps the most important of CUAHSI’s achievements in its first 20 years. We should be proud of how we have expanded our community. When I began my service on the Board, the bylaws were changed to allow for up to three representatives from each member institution, with the goal of engaging a broader range of scientific disciplines. This past year, we voted to change the bylaws to allow undergraduate institutions and two-year schools to be full members. This change is aligned with our recently adopted strategic plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

I thank Jerad for giving me this opportunity to reflect on my experience on the CUAHSI Board. I encourage you all to consider serving on the Board, joining one of the standing committees, organizing a Cyberseminar, or engaging with CUAHSI in some manner. CUAHSI is only as strong as the community.  I am happy to report that over my seven years on the Board, the average age of the members continually decreased (despite outliers like myself and Gordon Grant!). CUAHSI is in good shape for the future with its current diverse and energetic board.