Water science center is relocating to UMBC

USGS facility will track groundwater, streams in Md. region

March 14, 2006|By TIMOTHY B. WHEELER | TIMOTHY B. WHEELER,SUN REPORTER

In a move that proponents say could help deal with the state's growing water challenges, the U.S. Geological Survey has agreed to move its regional water science center to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's research and technology park, the university announced yesterday.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for June on a 23,500-square-foot building to house the agency's science center, which tracks stream flows, groundwater levels and water quality throughout Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

The center's 60 scientists and support staff, now leasing offices in White Marsh, expect to move by spring 2007 into the $4.2 million facility on the UMBC campus.

The move should strengthen the research collaboration between UMBC and the geological survey, officials say.

Claire Welty, director of UMBC's Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, said bringing the USGS to campus offers "an opportunity for real synergies" in studying the region's water resource issues.

"It will really complement and enhance our academic programs to have them here on campus," Welty said. "They're the premier entity for water studies here in the United States."

James Gerhart, director of the water science center, said his staff should benefit from access to the university's library, faculty and students. The proximity also should enhance research into regional issues, he said. Those include growing water-supply needs in some rapidly developing areas of Maryland and restoration of Chesapeake Bay.

"There's going to be a larger pool of brainpower working on some of the scientific issues associated with water," said Gerhart.

The two institutions already work together on the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, an ecological research project underwritten by the National Science Foundation that is headquartered on the UMBC campus. The study, begun in 1997, focuses in part on the Baltimore region's stream basins.

"We're very interested in making Baltimore a world center for looking at hydrological resources," said Andrew Miller, associate professor in UMBC's Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences.

The agreement between USGS and UMBC does not include any specific research or academic initiatives, but faculty say they have several proposals under review. They add that they anticipate benefits just from the proximity.

"We do collaborate with USGS now," Welty said, "but there's something to be said for having them across the street. ... Just being close to one another can provide a lot of opportunity for giving birth to ideas that might not happen otherwise."

The USGS facility, to be constructed by Corporate Office Properties Trust, would be the third building in UMBC's 41-acre research park.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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