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University of Utah launches Peak Water Sustainability Engine

Water is essential to life and a frequent research topic at the University of Utah. To increase research related to water, the U is excited to announce the launch of Peak Water Sustainability Engine (Peak Water). Engines are research hubs that bring together faculty, communities, governments, and industry to engage key societal challenges.

“Access to clean water is one of the key challenges of our time,” said Dr. Jakob Jensen, associate vice president for research at the U. “Researchers at the university are focused on water research in multiple domains such as water science, policy, and engineering. Our health sciences faculty examine the impact of water access for underserved populations and the negative health impacts of contaminated water on disease.”

Peak Water is an engine designed to support the development of water innovations and technology. Research will focus on the interconnectedness of complex ecosystems. From mountain research stations to urban waterbodies, to the Great Salt Lake, Peak Water will drive interdisciplinary research with a holistic watershed approach.

“The name Peak Water underscores the relationship between mountains, waterways, and groundwater in our region,” said Jensen. “In the Intermountain West, it is difficult to untangle mountain science and water science. What happens to one typically influences the other.”

Dr. Marian Rice will serve as the associate director of Peak Water. Rice has previously served as the deputy director of the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLCDPU). Prior to that, she served as the water quality and treatment administrator for SLCDPU and watershed planning section manager for Salt Lake County, radiation analyst and environmental health and safety coordinator for the U, and a hydrological technician for the U.S. Forest Service.

“Watersheds have always provided for communities dependent on essential ecosystem services including drinking water, food, and as a respite,” said Rice. “Our water resources are severely challenged by the multiple stressors including climate change, increasing demand from population growth, pollution, and increased fire risks.”

The launch of Peak Water aligns with the 1U4U Seed Grant topic for 2024, “The Future of Sustainability.” Each year, the U supports a seed grant program designed to establish research connections across the university. This year’s 1U4U theme focuses on sustainability, which is achieved whenever the needs of the present can be met without sacrificing the needs of future generations. Water is integral to sustainability both globally and locally.

“The interdisciplinary University of Utah community includes extensive expertise on water systems, and we are well poised to grow as leaders solving water challenges in partnership with our communities and ecosystems,” said Dr. Brenda Bowen, professor in geology and geophysics and chair of the U’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences. “The current crisis with Great Salt Lake highlights the need to focus on holistic water systems including watershed scale management and innovation in governance to optimize water use and allocation.”

Peak Water positions the U to be a global leader in water research and policy. In the first year, Rice plans to develop the leadership structure of the engine, organize water-focused events, and pursue funding in water research.

“I am honored to serve as associate director of Peak Water, which will serve as a vehicle to support interdisciplinary research across the University of Utah and facilitate partnerships within the diverse water community of academia, policymakers, professionals, nonprofit organizations, and the community,” said Rice. “Water is essential to community well-being, from the drinking water provided by headwaters and groundwater to ecosystem services of the Great Salt Lake. Examining water through a holistic and collaborative approach, we can better understand how to address pressing issues from the local to the global level, thus informing the sustainability of water for future generations.”


  • Sonita Claiborne director, PR/communications, University of Utah Vice President for Research