Key to North Texas’ future? Making watershed sustainable

One resource above all others remains key to a sustainable future for Texas: water.

Urban planners, scholars, environmental organizations, designers, water officials and elected officials will converge on The University of Texas at Arlington campus Aug. 16-17 to participate in a workshop, titled “Future Cities, Livable Futures: Toward a Sustainable Model for Urban-Watershed Systems.”

Adrian Parr, dean of the UTA College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, is the lead investigator on the National Science Foundation-funded workshop. Co-principal investigators are Assistant Professor Nick Fang and Associate Professor Michael Zaretsky, both of civil engineering, and Meghna Tare, UTA’s chief sustainability officer

“It could be labeled as a trust-building workshop across different disciplinary perspectives,” Parr said. “As we continue to grow in North Texas, we have to use a systems approach when addressing the challenges and opportunities of urban watersheds.”

Parr said she hopes that cities in the region begin to use a more holistic, cooperative and comprehensive approach that integrates perspectives from science, engineering, design, planning and policy while also incorporating input from residents and businesses.

The cross-disciplinary nature of this sort of research will provide the basis for tackling the myriad ways in which water and the built environment shape each other, she said. Participants will discuss and evaluate the environmental impacts of infrastructure systems, climate change, transportation networks and economic and population growth on the Trinity River Watershed.

Adrian Parr, dean of the UTA College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs

By using a variety of disciplinary perspectives, the NSF workshop aims to engage and examine the complexities that make up urban-watershed systems. The future of the Trinity River Watershed will be re-envisioned as a relevant model for urban watershed management and planning across the United States, Parr said.

“The ecosystems and habitats that make up the 18,000 square miles of the Trinity River Basin and 22 water reservoirs on the river itself extending from far North Texas down to Galveston Bay are impacted by storm runoff, trash, contaminants, variations in streamflow and physical structures such as levees and bridges,” she said. “With Dallas and Houston being the fourth- and fifth-largest metro areas in the United States, respectively, and populations projected to increase, it is important to reflect upon and prepare for the many ways in which urban growth will influence the largest river basin within the borders of the state of Texas.

“The central question guiding this conference is: How might urban and watershed systems combine in mutually beneficial ways?”

The investigators will identify activities and research areas that will engage stakeholders and collaborators in future endeavors with positive impacts on future urban watershed development in the DFW region and other cities in the United States.

The first day of the conference will be open to the public. The Saturday portion of the workshop will be largely a closed research session, but anyone who requests to join in on the second day may do so.

The NSF-funded workshop dovetails with Parr’s work as the UNESCO chair of water and human settlements committee and Tare’s work with the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development North Texas, or RCE North Texas, which works to unify sustainability efforts across North Texas.

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