ABOUT The National Institutes for Water Resources

Water Resources Research Institutes: Past, Present, & Future

Throughout America's history, water has been a crucial resource. The initial focus during the 1700's and 1800's was on employing water resources to support navigation and subsistence farming. Land Grant colleges were created in the mid-19th century to meet the growing knowledge needs of subsistence farmers.

As the population grew, it became evident that infrastructure improvements were needed that exceeded the capabilities of local and, even, state resources. Public support for water development, on a large scale, increased to the point where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, especially during the 20th century, were able to construct a modern system of water works across the United States. During this period, the need for new water knowledge continued to increase, especially with respect to the engineering and technological aspects of water infrastructure. Universities provided a strong underpinning for development of the highly disciplinary knowledge needed for this infrastructure.

In the latter half of the 20th century, environmental consequences of large scale water development became more evident. These environmental problems required a much more interdisciplinary approach than employed in the past. It was also recognized that the federal government should take a more vigorous role in sponsoring and coordinating water resources research. Congress drafted legislation to create a national water resources research program. The Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) of 1964 was signed by President Johnson on July 17, 1964.

In 2014, the Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Listen to Earl Greene, chief of External Research for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), talk about the purpose and history of the WRRA and the mission of the 54 Water Research Institutes located across the nation.

The WRRA of 1964 (P.L. 88-379 codified at 42 U.S.C. 10301 et seq.) authorized establishment of a water resources research and technology institute or center in each state. The institutes were charged with (1) arranging for competent research that addresses water problems or expands understanding of water and water-related phenomena, (2) aiding the entry of new research scientists into the water resources fields, (3) helping to train future water scientists and engineers, and (4) getting results of sponsored research to water managers and the public. The program is administered by the U.S. Geological Survey as the Water Resources Research Institutes (WRRI) Program under the general guidance of the Secretary of the Interior.

The WRRA of 1984 (P.L. 98-242) reauthorized the WRRI program, which was further amended by the 101st, 104th, 106th, and 109th Congresses. These changes also require institutes to match each federal dollar received through the program with two non-federal dollars and specify that the federal funds are not to be used to pay the indirect costs of the institutes.