Faculty Research Projects

The Planet Texas 2050 Urban Watershed Evolution team studies the effects of urbanization in Austin area streams. During Year 1, the team: 1) identified sources and quantified controls on urban water quantity and quality; 2) developed new methods for quantifying vegetation water use; 3) found differences in urban vs. rural watershed response to drought; 4) assessed watershed biodiversity; and 5) developed a new model for water flow and sources in rural vs. urban watersheds. The team will continue building integrative broader impacts.

The following faculty members are core members of the Urban Watershed Evolution Project Team. Please select your top two choices for your summer research program experience.

Each student will be part of a research project led by one of the faculty mentors listed below and will participate in field trips and seminars. The full student cohort will also work with each other to integrate their research plans and analysis to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of urban watershed evolution.


Jay Banner’s laboratory explores the impacts of urbanization on streamwater quality through novel tracers (Christian et al., 2011). Using naturally occurring Strontium isotopes in bedrock, soil, water, and tree rings, they investigate the natural and anthropogenic sources of dissolved ions and contaminants to local watersheds. By examining growth rate and chemical variations in riparian Bald Cypress tree rings, they assess the timing and extent of influence that both changing climate and failing infrastructure can have on urban aquatic ecosystems. In addition to learning methods for low-contamination field sampling, students may learn methods for clean-room sample preparation and mass spectrometer analysis of water, soil, wood cellulose, and rock.

Mary Jo Kirisits’s research group will mentor students in one of several ongoing drinking-water projects. The first investigates the effect of climate change on water treatment practice at small drinking-water systems. The objective is to develop guidelines for small-system operators to account for temperature changes in their treatment systems. The second project involves emerging biological drinking water treatment systems and the goal is to decrease the energy and associated greenhouse gas footprint of centralized water treatment.

Shalene Jha is an associate professor in UT Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology. Broadly, the Jha Lab investigates ecological and evolutionary processes from genes to landscapes, to quantify global change impacts on plant-animal interactions, movement ecology, and the provisioning of ecosystem services. Dr. Jha’s work has provided insight into the environmental drivers of pollinator diversity, has revealed the complex and dynamic nature of wild pollinator foraging, and has exposed critical urbanization and elevation barriers to plant and pollinator gene flow across historic and contemporary time periods.

Kasey Faust is an Assistant Professor in Construction Engineering and Project Management in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Faust’s work focuses on human-infrastructure interactions, infrastructure interdependencies, and water sector infrastructure. Her research on sociotechnical systems aims to improve service to communities.