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$20 million grant has Idaho researchers leading studies linking economic growth and landscapes

idaho universities receive land grant

POCATELLO, Idaho - Today university researchers from across the state have a reason to celebrate after receiving a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant is aimed at conducting research over the course of five years investigating the patterns of the natural ecosystems and how that relates to driving-up economic growth across Idaho.

Idaho State University's Vice President for Research and Economic Development Howard Grimes said this research helps determine the impacts natural resources have on the economy starting with the farming communities.

"These studies will bring a lot of pragmatic and applicable information to bear on these problems and how we manage our natural resources in a way that is beneficial for our society," Grimes said.

One problem researchers will focus on is the possibility of a diminishing water supply across the state.

"We have lots of issues facing our ecosystems and watersheds and water management for our agricultural industry as well as our well-being," Grimes also noted.

Although Idaho is not facing any perplexing and imminent threats to the ecosystem at the moment, Grimes said we are seeing this happen in surrounding states and it is time to make sure we are prepared ahead of time before facing a crises if and when it were to occur.

He also said if Idaho starts to see any serious threat to the water supply, this could cause farmers serious trouble. With the farming and agriculture community as a major backbone in the rural economies across the state, a struggling farming industry could be a big hit to local economic growth.

ISU's Department of Geosciences assistant professor Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak is also studying these impacts.

"We need our water for agriculture, for sportsmen, for outdoor activities, and for our communities, and so it is very important that we protect that and to protect it best, we first need to know what is going on with it," Kobs-Nawotniak said.

She said there is also an influx in people moving into Idaho, which is also driving-up the demand for water.

"We've got expanding cities, meaning we have more people moving to Idaho for the great things we have to offer," she said. "That means we're taking more of the water out and we're pressuring our aquifers. So we need to know how our recharge is working, how we can maximize our benefits from that, and how we can properly manage the water that's being sent to agriculture versus to the towns."

However, the studies do not just stop at the possibility of a fleeting water supply.

Researchers will be looking into fire prevention, climate change, the overall quality of life in the state, and geographical movement.

This grant will add 11 new faculty members from the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the various ISU campuses as well.

ISU faculty members said they will be accepting graduate students into the program starting this fall.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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