Skip to main content

Flipping the water conversation

New 5-year ASU water initiative, announced today at White House summit, will focus on abundance instead of scarcity

A desert lake with mountains reflected in the water.
March 22, 2016

Arizona State University today announced a five-year initiative, FutureH2O, to flip the global conversation about water on its head and focus on the abundance of water and how to create it instead of hand-wringing about scarcity.

ASU will work with large corporate water consumers to restore what they use, train a new generation of leaders on water usage, turn a Phoenix area municipality into a model for reducing outdoor water use and maximize sensors, data and the Internet around the world to instantly manage water and hydropower.

John Sabo, an ASU professor in the School of Life Sciences and director of the new initiative, led the announcement at today’s White House Water Summit.

“FutureH2O will look for new opportunities to harness the abundance of water on the planet,” said Sabo, a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. “Some of these opportunities are things you’d expect us to do as a university, like training the next generation of water managers. But some of the other opportunities are things that ASU is uniquely poised to do.”

“We want to learn how to make it ‘cool’ to conserve. But, more importantly, we need to figure out how to finance the transition to this future. FutureH2O plans to be in the middle of that conversation whether it’s happening in our backyard, on a farm or in the developing world.”
— ASU professor John Sabo, director of the new FutureH2O initiative

ASU’s work with the private sector, such as technology transfer and helping incubate businesses, and its strong relationships with all levels of government, enable the university to create the partnerships necessary to incentivize efficiency and conservation.

“We want to learn how to make it ‘cool’ to conserve,” Sabo said. “But, more importantly, we need to figure out how to finance the transition to this future. FutureH2O plans to be in the middle of that conversation whether it’s happening in our backyard, on a farm or in the developing world.”

The initiative will work towards the following five goals:

• Develop public-private partnerships to fund an urban landscape design and renovation campaign that reduces residential outdoor water use in at least one Phoenix metro service area by a third by 2025.

• Deliver research and advice to at least 10 of the largest corporate water users in the U.S. to scope, plan and implement restoration projects at scales that improve water reliability in stressed water basins nationwide.

• Develop online learning platforms for undergraduate and professional clients that cross-train the next generation of water leaders. They will collaborate with energy leaders to find solutions to the complex demands of water usage in producing food and energy, and train 1,000 such leaders across the U.S. Sunbelt in the next 10 years.

• Build a food-energy-water technology test bed at ASU and use demonstration projects from this test bed as game-changers for the future of agriculture in the arid Southwest.

• Transform how institutions in the U.S. and developing world embrace, deploy, use and share sensors, data and the Internet of Things to improve real-time management of water, hydropower, fisheries and agriculture in large river basins.

A second ASU commitment that will be made at the White House Summit is on SciStarter, a research affiliate of ASU’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society (ASU CENTSS). Darlene Cavalier of ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society said ASU is committing to advance citizen science to build a sustainable water future by:

• Expanding the network and impact of citizen science, SciStarter has trained more than 40 citizen-science teams (more than 1,700 individuals) nationwide to take soil-moisture measurements to validate data captured by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite. SciStarter will train an additional 60 teams over the next 18 months — including at least one team in every U.S. state.

• Establishing a “Lending Library” of soil-moisture monitoring equipment, SciStarter will launch programs in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Phoenix — to partner with local science museums and libraries to provide training on the equipment. These cities will serve as pilot projects to establish regional networks of lending libraries anchored in science museums across the country.

The White House event will be webcast live at

Top photo by Robbie Ribeiro/

More Environment and sustainability


Headshot of Rajul (Raj) Pandya

Rajul Pandya joins Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to lead Global Futures Education Lab

Rajul “Raj” Pandya has joined Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College as the Fulton Presidential Professor of Practice and executive director of the Global Futures Education Lab…

Group of ASU faculty pose for a photo.

ASU faculty honored for contributions to extreme heat research

In a remarkable recognition of their contributions to the field of geographical research, several faculty and researchers from across multiple departments at Arizona State University have been…

Collage showing hands collecting water sample, women working in a plastic recycling microfactory, a man looking at a carbon capture device, the city of Phoenix and men looking out over an array of solar panels

The role of the university in changing the world

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series exploring our biggest environmental challenges. In this article, leaders from across ASU discuss what universities can do to address complex global…