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News Release 13-121

NSF and NBC Learn Explore the Future of Water in New Video Series

"Sustainability: Water" video series examines the long-term health of one of America's most important resources

Sustainability water video series logo

New videos help people understand how human activity and climate variability effect water.

July 9, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NBC Learn (NBC News' educational arm) have teamed up to produce a new informative video series that examines the long-term health of one of America's most important resources: water.

As climate rapidly changes and population grows, providing a sufficient supply and quality of water will be a critical challenge to people everywhere. These videos aim to help advance public understanding of the effects human activity and climate variability have on water and its distribution system.

"Sustainability: Water," an original seven-part collection, consists of detailed stories explaining significant challenges to managing the water supply in selected regions and cities across the United States.

The series highlights research funded by NSF and looks at the lives of scientists who are hard at work on projects designed to help pave the way to a more sustainable future. Each video features an NSF-supported scientist from a diversity of fields, geographic locations and institutions explaining a specific challenge and how these challenges are affecting the water supply. Each episode is available cost-free to teachers, students and the public at NSF and websites.

"Most Americans take water for granted," said Roger Wakimoto, assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Geosciences. "We have occasional water restrictions, but for most of us, when we turn on the tap, water is there. This series with NBC Learn aims to help people become more conscious of the threats to our water supply and understand the steps that need to be taken to maintain it."

"Our new series with NSF is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges to our environment," said Soraya Gage, general manager of NBC Learn. "By exploring the challenge of sustainable water, we hope to raise awareness and spur dialogue about managing the water system and conserving Earth's most precious resource."

New "Sustainability: Water" videos released today include:

1. The water cycle

This video uses animation and graphics to explain each of the "flow" and "storage" processes in the Water Cycle: precipitation, interception, run-off, infiltration, percolation, groundwater discharge, evaporation, transpiration, evapotranspiration and condensation.

2. Sustainability: Water--the Ogallala Aquifer

Farmers in Kansas and other states that sit atop the Ogallala aquifer--the largest freshwater aquifer in North America--are pumping out water for crop irrigation far faster than natural seepage of rainwater can replenish it. Scientist David Hyndman from Michigan State University is helping develop a plan to better manage this vital resource for sustainable farming.

3. Sustainability: Water--Sierra Nevada snow pack and snow melt

Snow melt from the snow pack in Sierra Nevada mountain range provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California's residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley and runs hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state's electricity. Martha Conklin and Tom Harmon of the University of California, Merced use wireless sensor technology to more accurately measure snow pack and snow melt so that state water managers can make better decisions on how to allocate this resource.

4. Sustainability: Water--dead trees and dirty water in the Rockies

The Rocky Mountains supply water to more than 60 million people in the West, but this watershed is in peril due to a tiny insect: the mountain pine beetle. Millions of trees killed by these "bark beetles" have dropped branches that once intercepted snow; snow now falls directly on the ground and runs off more quickly and contaminated by decaying tree "litterfall." Hydrologists Reed Maxwell of Colorado School of Mines and John Stednick of Colorado State University are studying the impact of the beetle-killed trees on water quantity and quality in the area.

5. Sustainability: Water--Los Angeles and water imports

The nearly 10 million people in Los Angeles, Calif., require a lot of water--most of which is imported snow melt from the Eastern Sierra Nevadas and Rocky Mountains hundreds of miles away. University of California, Los Angeles researchers Stephanie Pincetl and Mark Gold are studying how Los Angeles can reduce its water imports and better capture, store and reuse water for a more sustainable water supply.

6. Sustainability: Water--urban streams in Baltimore

The Chesapeake Bay, a natural habitat and watershed providing fresh water for Baltimore, Md., faces an environmental crisis: nitrate pollution in run-off from a range of sources. Claire Welty of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County is studying run-off through city water systems and "urban streams" in and around Baltimore, in hopes that a better understanding of the urban water cycle will help municipalities reduce or prevent watershed pollution.

7. Sustainability: Water--Lake Erie and nutrient loading

In 2011, Lake Erie suffered an unprecedented bloom of toxic blue-green algae, a concern to millions who use the lake for drinking water, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. Stanford University's Anna Michalak, University of Toledo's Thomas Bridgeman and Heidelberg University's R. Peter Richards are among those studying how agricultural runoff, plus changes in precipitation, may increase nutrient flow into Lake Erie that can "feed" potentially dangerous algae blooms.

In addition to its subscription resources, NBC Learn also produces original video collections that are made available for free on These include Emmy Award-winning videos produced in partnership with NSF, see: Science of the Winter Olympics, Science of the Summer Olympics, Science of NFL Football, Science of NHL Hockey, Science Behind The News, Changing Planet and Chemistry Now.


Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:
Brianne Beers, NBC News, (212) 664-3875, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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