Columbia Water Center

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The Columbia Water Center
Type Non-profit
Founded 2008
Headquarters New York, New York
Key people Upmanu Lall, Director
Kapil Kumar Narula, Director, India Office
Daniel Stellar, Assistant Director

The Columbia Water Center (CWC) was established in January 2008 as a branch of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The center focuses on researching and addressing water-related issues, especially the increasing level of water scarcity around the globe. CWC focuses on areas with poor water management and diminishing levels of fresh water, especially in the agricultural sector. Currently CWC is working on projects in China, Mali, Brazil, the United States, and India.[1]

The Center's stated mission involves finding strategies to tackle the current and impending levels of global water scarcity. With a team of hydrologists, climatologists, engineers, and water policy analysts, the CWC aims to design water management models that are both dependable and sustainable as long-term global solutions.[2] The current Director of the center is Upmanu Lall, the Carol Silberstein Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia University.[3]


In 2008, the PepsiCo Foundation awarded the Earth Institute $6 million to address these water-related issues. The Earth Institute, under the leadership of Jeff Sachs, is a research institution that supports sustainable projects that address issues on various angles, from helping poverty-stricken communities to researching environmental problems, all of which promote the Millennium Development Goals.[4]


Improving Rural Outcomes[edit]

The PepsiCo grant led to the establishment of the Columbia Water Center under the leadership of Columbia University engineering professor Upmanu Lall. This three-year grant made possible projects in four countries: India, China, Mali, and Brazil.[4]

In Brazil, CWC has partnered with the Federal University of Ceará in the northeast to focus on sophisticated climate-based forecasting systems used for water allocation decisions across diverse use sectors. In addition, the CWC team recently completed a municipal water plan (PAM) for Milhã, a rural area in central Ceará. The project outlines a plan for the municipality to deliver water to all of its 14,000 residents.

As part of the project, the CWC designed and built water infrastructure demonstration projects for Ingá and Pedra Fina, two communities in Milhã. The project provides water to 500 people in the area.[5]

In India, the project focuses on reducing water consumption in the agricultural sector by encouraging sustainable crop choice patterns, as well as working with corporations to deploy better irrigation technologies (and increase reliability) throughout their supply chains. A key objective is to reduce the groundwater stress in the region. Primary project locations are in the states of Punjab and Gujarat.[6]

In Punjab, the CWC has partnered with Punjab Agricultural University to come up with innovative solutions to reduce farmer irrigation. Some of the methods developed (including the use of inexpensive tensiometers to measure soil moisture and direct seeding of rice) were field tested in the 2010 planting season with over 500 farmers participating.[7] The Punjab Agricultural University team reports that participating farmers saved 25 to 30 percent of their normal water use by implementing the new approaches. The CWC/PAU team plans to scale up the pilot project in 2011 by recruiting 5,000 rice farmers to use tensiometers.[8]

In Gujarat, the Columbia Water Center is working with the state government to reform electricity subsidies to provide a greater incentive for farmers to conserve water. In conjunction with subsidy reform, the CWC is also piloting water saving technologies among farmers.[9]

The work in Mali coincides with the Millennium Villages Project. CWC is focusing on designing irrigation and cropping systems that can be operated and maintained locally in order to provide farmers with higher-value cash crops. The center has installed large pumps that improved the amount of water available. Projects emphasize bringing together local partners, market forces and public-private partnerships.

The Consortium on Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast[edit]

In September 2010, Columbia University was named as lead institution for the Consortium on Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast, a federal climate risk-assessment and mitigation initiative sponsored by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Columbia Water Center Director Upmanu Lall was named as one of the principal investigators on the team.[10][11]

The program is part of NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) to support “research that addresses complex climate sensitive issues of concern to decision-makers and policy planners at a regional level.”

New Initiatives[edit]

Under the direction of Associate Research Scientist Shama Perveen, the Columbia Water Center has begun a project to analyze the national groundwater situation in India. The analysis is based on 100 years of daily precipitation data in India. By comparing long-term trends, the research team is quantifying the long-term water deficit in much of India. Results corroborate data from NASA's GRACE program that suggest that the Punjab region is mining groundwater at an unsustainable rate.[12]

In addition, the Columbia Water Center is synthesizing years of global flood data to develop new approaches for more accurate regional flood prediction. By studying the geographic distribution of hundreds of floods over the last decade, Lall and other CWC scientists have concluded that rather than being random, flood patterns are directly connected to prior ocean conditions, including the jet stream, tropical storms, or long-lived high-pressure zones, theoretically making major floods more predictable.[13]


  1. ^ "The Earth Institute Water". Earth Institute. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  2. ^ "The Earth Institute Water"
  3. ^ "Columbia Water Center Receives $6 Million". Columbia University School of Engineering. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  4. ^ a b "PepsiCo Foundation announces major new grant to the Earth Institute at Columbia University to promote global water sustainability". Earth Institute. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  5. ^ Carrie Loewenthal Massey (2010-06-01). "Columbia Water Center at Work Across Globe". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  6. ^ J. Carl Ganter (2010-06-04). "U.S., India Working Together to Address India’s Water Needs". Circle of Blue Water News. Retrieved 2011-01-13. 
  7. ^ Carrie Loewenthal Massey (2010-05-28). "U.S., India Working Together to Address India’s Water Needs". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  8. ^ Lakis Polycarpou (2010-11-17). "‘Small is Also Beautiful’ – Appropriate Technology Cuts Rice Famers’ Water Use by 30 Percent in Punjab, India". 
  9. ^ Eryn-Ashlei Bailey (2010-12-03). "Incentives for Water Conservation in Gujarat". Retrieved 2011-01-15. 
  10. ^ "RISA Investigators and Institutions". NOAA. 2010-09-28. Retrieved 2011-01-15. 
  11. ^ "Commerce Secretary Locke Announces Awards to Six New Regional Climate Science Collaborations". NOAA. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  12. ^ Mason Inman (2010-12-21). ""Mining" Groundwater in India Reaches New Lows". Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  13. ^ Richard A. Lovett (2010-12-28). "Climate Patterns to Help Predict the Next Big Flood?". Retrieved 2011-01-14. 

External links[edit]

Partnership Institutions

Coordinates: 40°48′34″N 73°57′36″W / 40.80945°N 73.95999°W / 40.80945; -73.95999