Get to Know the Center for Urban Waters

CUW with Mt. Rainier

By Nina Zhao

Located along the shores of Commencement Bay in Tacoma, WA, the Center for Urban Waters is a revolutionary research facility designed with the environment in mind.  The founding partners of the Center for Urban Waters – the City of Tacoma, the University of Washington-Tacoma, and the Puget Sound Partnership – are committed to seeing this unique, innovative water research facility grow along with water research demands.

The vision for this premier research center goes back to 2002 and a group of community leaders committed to restoring and protecting the Puget Sound.  With generous endowment from both government and private parties, the Center began to welcome its tenants in 2010, after nearly a decade of endeavor.

Today, the Center for Urban Waters is home to researchers dedicated to routine environmental monitoring of the Puget Sound region, scientists exploring both fundamental and applied environmental research questions, and policymakers focused on using the latest science to develop effective environmental restoration and stewardship strategies.  Here, science, engineering, and policy meet for sustainable growth of the Puget Sound.

The Center itself is a masterpiece in pollution control and sustainable energy usage.  Under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system, the Center for Urban Waters boasts a Platinum certification, the highest possible designation.  Building construction favored locally and sustainably manufactured materials.  More than 99% of the waste generated during construction was recycled.

Impervious surface rainwater runoff delivers harmful pollutants into urban waterways (which is a hot research topic at the Center).  The Center for Urban Waters building mitigates this runoff by using pervious pavers and rain gardens, which allow for natural filtration of rainwater, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for beneficial birds and insects.  Geothermal wells and natural sunlight and ventilation save energy while heating and cooling the building.  Additionally, water reuse systems and efficient plumbing fixtures help the Center consume 46% (or 400,000 gallons) less water per year than conventional facilities of the same size.

Freshwater Initiative researchers Joel Baker, Edward Kolodziej, and Andy James work on cutting-edge environmental problems at the Center for Urban Waters.  Their research addresses issues of pre-spawn mortality of Coho salmon, urban stormwater runoff, and agricultural runoff pollution in the state of Washington.  Their work is made possible in part by the impressive analytical capabilities of the Center for Urban Waters, including machinery to detect heavy metal and organic chemical contamination in water.  For more about the Center’s analytical prowess, please visit their website.

More details about the Center for Urban Waters can be found on their website, including virtual facility tours and student internship opportunities.