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In the 2016 State Budget, the North Carolina General Assembly established the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory (the “Collaboratory”) to utilize and disseminate the environmental research expertise of the University of North Carolina for practical use by state and local government.  The Legislature provided a strong commitment to this new initiative through a recurring $1 million annual appropriation and additional funds for specific studies.  UNC-Chapel Hill leadership embraced the concept of the Collaboratory and worked quickly to put in place the structure needed to begin operations.  The following is a summary of the activities of the first year of the Collaboratory.

Research Funding

Upon its establishment in July 2016, the Collaboratory was charged with two legislative studies:

  1. nutrient pollution in Jordan and Falls Lakes; and
  2. growing the state’s aquaculture industry.

The UNC Nutrient Study, which is a six-year study funded by the Legislature at $500,000 per year, involves more than 20 UNC and NCSU faculty, staff, and graduate students engaged in research projects to better understand and reduce nutrient pollution in these two drinking water reservoirs. The project involves both gaining an understanding of the reservoirs and a holistic evaluation of the watersheds. Researchers are focusing on Jordan Lake for the first three years of the Study.

An Interim Update was submitted to the General Assembly in 2016, which outlines the research priorities. Another update to the Legislature is due December 2017.

The UNC Aquaculture Study involves a working group of more than a dozen representatives from industry, federal, state, and local officials, scientists, and environmental advocates.

In addition to the two legislative studies, the Collaboratory funded several research projects from its general appropriation in fiscal year 2016-17. The Collaboratory selected research projects that could assist the state in responding to and preparing for natural disasters:

  • Hurricane Matthew Response and Resiliency Planning
    • Researchers from the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence and students across several N.C. universities are leading efforts to respond to Hurricane Matthew and plan for future disasters by: linking UNC (16 campus) System resources to assist as identified; engaging communities to identify issues and unmet needs and ways to assist them; providing policy counsel to state and local governments and the Governor’s Office; and coordinating with FEMA’s Community and Capacity Building group. The focus is on six N.C. communities with the most significant impact, combined with a modest-to-low capacity to recover.
  • Flood Plain Mapping of Inland Areas
    • The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), working with the Institute for the Environment, will develop near real-time flood mapping data and develop inland flood maps of North Carolina for use by first-responders, emergency management staff and policy makers.
  • Public Health Impacts from Hurricane Matthew
    • Researchers at the School of Public Health are working with local health departments to conduct a public health needs assessment post Hurricane Matthew to prioritize and target community-level interventions in affected communities.
  • Wildfire Mitigation in western North Carolina
    • Researchers from UNC’s Center for Environmental Model and Policy Development, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Services, will quantify the impact of fuel load changes in response to weather on wildfires and air quality through a case study of the extreme fall 2016 fire season. They will also inform land managers and increase public awareness of the human factors in fire occurrence in North Carolina and upwind forested regions, in support of policy and community actions to minimize their impacts.

More information and updates from each of these projects can be found on the Collaboratory website.

In total, in its first year the Collaboratory allocated more than $1.1 million in research funds to a dozen UNC units and three academic units at NC State University.

Faculty Involvement

The Collaboratory established an eight-member Advisory Board with expertise from different schools and departments across campus to assist in guiding the work of the Collaboratory. The Advisory Board has held monthly meetings beginning in November 2016 and played a critical role in the projects selected for funding. 

Public Outreach and Transparency

The Collaboratory has made it a priority to ensure that its work is transparent and accessible to the public. The Collaboratory established a website, where detailed information about the projects it funds can be found, as well as Advisory Board meeting notices and meeting minutes.  Furthermore, the Collaboratory staff is active in promoting the work of the Collaboratory through briefings and presentations at more than a dozen public events across the state.

A Look Ahead to FY 2017-18

The Legislature fully funded the Collaboratory as well as directed a couple of new studies:

  1. managing environmental data; and
  2. energy storage technology.

Importantly, the Legislature extended the matching grant for the Collaboratory for two years, which provides for an additional $3.5 million in funds, if private donations can be raised.

For the 2017-18 academic year the Collaboratory is funding four new research projects all with a focus on emerging issues related to water quality and public health. These projects are:

  • Improving Stewardship of Private Groundwater Wells
  • Improving Resiliency and Service of NC’s Water and Wastewater Utilities
  • Are Floodplain Buyouts a Smart Investment for Local Governments?
  • The Origin and Fate of Lead in North Carolina Surface Waters


The first year of the Collaboratory has been very successful. We have been able to engage a number of faculty on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and at NC State on a number of issues that are important to the long-term success of North Carolina. The Collaboratory also has provided a key link between the work of the Legislature and the research capabilities of UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System.

Units that received funding from the Collaboratory during FY 2016-17:
  • UNC Institute of Marine Sciences
  • UNC School of Government
  • UNC Kenan Institute
  • UNC Coastal Resilience Center
  • UNC Environmental Finance Center
  • UNC Institute for the Environment
  • UNC Renaissance Computing Institute
  • UNC Department of City and Regional Planning
  • UNC Department of Geography
  • UNC Department of Marine Sciences
  • UNC Department of Epidemiology
  • UNC Environmental Resource Program
  • NCSU Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
  • NCSU Department of Crop and Soil Science
  • NCSU College of Design
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