At the federal level the Water Resources Research Act of 1984, as amended, authorizes a water resources research institute in each state and territory to:
- "plan, conduct, or otherwise arrange for competent research that fosters (a) the entry of new research scientists into the water resources fields, (b) the training and education of future water scientists, engineers, and technicians, (c) the preliminary exploration of new ideas that address water problems or expand understanding of water and water related phenomena, and (d) the dissemination of research results to water managers and the public," and
- "cooperate closely with other colleges and universities in the State that have demonstrated capabilities for research, information dissemination, and graduate training in order to develop a statewide program designed to resolve State and regional water and related land problems."
The New York State legislature established WRI under state law as the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University in 1987 with the purpose of addressing critical problems of water resource quality and management.
The legislation directs WRI to:
- "pursue and sponsor, both at Cornell and elsewhere, investigations and experiments of either a practical or basic nature, the education and training of scientists and specialists, and outreach activities for the dissemination of information and the provision of technical assistance relating to the state's water resources,"
- "undertake specific projects in support of state agencies, particularly in the development of assessment methodologies and criteria for guidance or standards for use in management and regulatory programs," and
- "provide for information dissemination, including technical and scientific consultation with and briefings for state agencies concerned with water resources management and regulatory affairs."
National Institute for Water Resources (NIWR)
Under federal legislation, each state's water resources institute is also directed to " cooperate closely with other institutes and other organizations in the region to increase the effectiveness of the institutes and for the purpose of promoting regional coordination." The New York State Water Resources Institute is a member of the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR). The purpose of NIWR is to cooperate with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to:
- establish total programmatic direction,
- report on the activities of the state Water Institutes,
- coordinate and facilitate regional water research and information and technology transfer, and
- operate the NIWR-USGS Student Internship Program to help train future water scientists.
NYSWRI is part of the Mid-Atlantic Region of NIWR, along with the Institutes in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.