Climate center thanks Davis for intercession on funding

Climate center thanks Davis for intercession on funding

CHAMPAIGN — A local center that compiles data on everything from temperatures to rainfall in the Midwest is at risk of losing its contract with the federal government.

Beth Hall, director of the Midwest Regional Climate Center, said the center learned in January that officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, were re-evaluating how the agency managed its contracts. The regional climate center, which operates cooperatively with the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois and NOAA, receives the bulk of its funding through a contract with NOAA. Under the proposed reorganization, the center could have been merged with another one, or another entity could have won the bid to house the center, according to Hall.

She contacted U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, who urged agency officials to reconsider. Later that month, the center learned its contract was extended by six months. It now expires Sept. 30.

On Wednesday, Davis visited the water survey campus off Griffith Drive in Champaign to meet staff and learn more about what they do. They also thanked him for making those calls back in January.

"This was a crucial time for the center," Hall said about earlier this year. She said they will bid for the contract within the next 30 days.

The regional climate centers — there are six in the U.S. — receive about $3.6 million annually from the federal government, with the Midwest center in Champaign receiving about $600,000, according to Hall. With grants and contracts, the center's annual budget is about $750,000 to $800,000, she said.

In addition to Illinois, the Midwest Regional Climate Center serves Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"The vision was to not just be a warehouse of data but network between data and the community," Hall said, adding that everyone from farmers to urban planners tap into their expertise.

Housed at the water survey, the Midwest Regional Climate Center's staff includes six full-time employees plus a few part-time employees and interns for a total of 10 employees, including Hall. When the water survey became part of the university in 2008, the employees became UI employees.

The water survey, which dates back over 100 years, was part of the reason the Midwest Regional Climate Center was established in Champaign in the 1980s, said water survey Director Mike Demissie.

"MRCC is a huge part of what we do," said David Kristovich, head of the Center for Atmospheric Science at the Illinois State Water Survey. People use their data every day for basic and applied research, such as studying how pollen or pollution is distributed, he said.

Davis said he was happy to advocate on the center's behalf.

"A lot of time politicians talk about creating jobs, but we have to be able to save jobs we already have because they matter too," he said.