The Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions (WEES) Initiative

AIR manages the Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions (WEES) initiative at the University of Arizona, which is funded by state sales tax revenues through the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) administered by the Arizona Board of Regents. For FY22–FY24, WEES support will focus on the following six areas (described in detail below).

In FY22, WEES funding will be used to support new faculty salary and startup; new and not yet sustainable initiatives, centers, and institutes; targeted grants and awards; and competitive grants. In addition to the AIR-administered competitive Resilience Grants, WEES plans to fund select relevant and highly-ranked proposals submitted through RII’s Internal Funding program, including Faculty Seed Grants, Workshop Support, Equipment Enhancement Fund, Challenge Grants, and Production Grants.

In addition to supporting AIR’s mission of supporting interdisciplinary groups, including off-campus partners, to develop practical, applied solutions that further resilience in our natural and human communities, all WEES investments will be evaluated with respect to the following ABOR performance measures:

  • Postdocs supported
  • Graduate students supported
  • Undergraduate students supported
  • New Sponsored Project funding
  • Publications in academic peer-reviewed journals
  • Licenses and options
  • Startup companies, investments, and FTEs

A final point of evaluation will be whether the funding would be a responsible use of Arizona taxpayers’ money.

Resilient Systems Integration


As energy demands, food scarcity, and climate variability increase, the means to create and maintain reliable and resilient energy delivery systems, and food production systems sufficient to sustain and enhance our society, economy, and ecosystems are of paramount importance, especially in regions like Arizona and the Southwest. An integrated and aggressive approach that incorporates economic considerations is required to solve these problems, especially as this region is home to many communities that are particularly vulnerable to such changes. 

Program Goals

Please note that water research must be integrated with energy or food production to be included here. Otherwise, please see Future-Proofing Arizona Water.

Research in this program focuses on:  

  • development of new materials, technologies, and operations targeted to enhance efficient water reuse and purification in energy or food production;

  • development of smarter data and decision-making platforms for energy use with robust links to policy and decision-making processes;

  • improvement of food production systems, including soil quality;

  • integration of new science and technology with policy development, decision making, support, and education;

  • production of news designs for more resilient and efficient urban and rural environments;  

  • and creation of regional test beds and new public-private partnerships. 

Building Resilience from Environmental to Human Health


Arizona’s changing climate, population, demographics, and land use patterns, as well as sudden shocks to the system from pandemics, heat waves, wildfires, and other natural phenomena, bring a continuous stream of health challenges to our communities. As people are moving closer to the urban/wild interface, changing climate brings new or more intense natural hazards and new vectors for disease transmission into our region. Communities need reliable information about the nature and extent of threats, the economic costs of threats and possible counter actions, where the greatest vulnerabilities lie, and scenarios for building resiliency to their effects. Furthermore, resource use and extraction industries are critical to the Arizona economy, but have impacts on environmental and human health that need to be addressed.

Program Goals

Research in this program focuses on:

  • advancing our understanding of the impacts of heat, drought, and other climate-change-driven impacts and ways to address them, including demographic challenges as people continue to move to more comfortable climates;
  • identifying and addressing air and food contamination to develop early warning systems to preempt crises;

    • Water contamination may be included here as a secondary/tertiary focus. For research that focuses primarily on water, please see Future-Proofing Arizona Water. 

  • community collaboration to develop mitigation strategies, scenario evaluation tools, and community education programs; 

  • and new approaches to mining and reclamation to enable these industries to prosper while preserving our environment and the health of nearby communities.

Observation Systems for Resilience Monitoring and Modeling


We can better prepare for change if we are able to monitor it in real time. Data related to weather, water resources, soil and vegetation conditions, air quality, greenhouse gasses, wind and solar energy, and other conditions allows us to predict what we might expect in the future and plan accordingly. Scientists are now developing methods to provide data and forecasts at shorter-term and more local scales useful to farmers, utilities, and resource managers. A critical step is collaboration between data collectors, data modelers, and data users to ensure that the quality, format, and parameters of the data products are optimized to users’ needs.

Program Goals

Research in this program focuses on: 

  • creation of a regional-scale climate forecasting center;

  • development of more refined local and regional climate, weather, greenhouse gas emissions and other forecasting models;  

  • combining science, policy, economic, and technology solutions to help monitor and manage greenhouse gas emissions; 

  • production of energy forecasting products codeveloped with utilities;

  • and partnerships with communities to codevelop data and information products that allow them to make decisions based on greater understanding of probable conditions. 

Future-Proofing Arizona Water


We seek reliable supplies of clean water for our municipalities, industries, and ecosystems, including new technologies to treat contaminated water, new means to use water more efficiently, and better methods to distribute it equitably. The science and technology of clean and reliable water is extremely important, as is having people understand the options and trade-offs associated with alternative pathways forward and encouraging the exploration of creative new ways to manage water in the state. 

Program Goals 

Research in this program focuses on: 

  • ensuring a reliable and safe water supply for all Arizonans: water supply, availability, quality, distribution, equity; 

  • new partnerships between scientists, engineers, and policymakers;

  • connecting water sciences to policy to address and resolve water management challenges, including water use; 

  • commercialization of new water treatment technologies; 

  • and promotion of a greater diversity of voices influencing water resources management; and engage in innovative partnerships with the private sector. 

Adaptable Desert Communities, Cultures, and Ecosystems


For humans to continue to live in arid lands, we must understand how we can be resilient to impacts associated with climate change and other stresses affecting the linked human and natural systems of the desert. Many changes that will eventually affect the rest of the world are starting here in the arid Sonoran Desert; our experiences can inform communities across the globe. Integrated research, education, and outreach grounded in community needs is necessary to guide actions, policies, and decisions that preserve and enhance these linked cultural and ecological systems.

Program Goals

Research in this program focuses on: 

  • understanding the Sonoran Desert as a case study for resilience solutions that can be applied to challenges in other arid regions around the world;

  • integration of science, education, and outreach grounded in community needs (i.e., at the community’s request or direct benefit); 

  • supporting cultural resilience for communities facing loss of traditional lifeways due to climate change challenges (e.g., cultural practices, language, ecological knowledge);  

  • research that combines science and/or art to support resilience solutions for arid lands; 

  • creation of transdisciplinary University/stakeholder working groups to generate solutions to enhance community resilience; 

  • and connecting researchers to policymakers to ensure that policy preserves both cultural practice/diversity and ecological systems. 

Fostering Leaders in Resilience


Arizona is home to a diverse population with varying strengths, interests, and vulnerabilities. Preparing for a resilient future requires our next generation of leaders and decision makers to reflect that diversity and be able to communicate across sectors and disciplines. STEM training is necessary, but with fluency that goes beyond just STEM. New cross-disciplinary fields are emerging that mix science with technology or policy, for example, and we need to draw students into them. Students, in turn, seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities even before they graduate.

Program Goals

Research in this program focuses on: 

  • increasing diversity in existing scholarship and internship programs; 

  • design and implementation of experiential learning curricula; 

  • expanding internship programs to include more opportunities, especially for underserved populations and less-advantaged students; 

  • leadership training and mentoring for junior faculty via TRIF-funded programs;  

  • growing programs to reach K-12 students in STEM and attract them to the University;  

  • and creation of new environment-focused courses that allow high school students to gain UArizona credit.