North Carolina State University is leading a four-year federal research effort to evaluate freshwater sustainability across the southern United States and develop policy recommendations on what can be done to make the best use of water supplies in the face of population growth and the effects of climate change over the next 10 to 30 years. Arizona State University and the University of Georgia are also part of the project.
The project will analyze historical hydroecological observations, water management policies, and population and climate change projections to determine how sustainable water resources will be over the next 10 to 30 years. The research is supported by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
A significant aspect of the research is to evaluate adaptive water management strategies in the arid Southwest and to determine whether they could be used to improve the sustainability of water resources elsewhere. This will include retrospective analyses to see which of these strategies would have been most effective in addressing water sustainability issues related to ecological and human use over the past 50 years.
"Steve Jobs once said 'You can't connect the dots looking forward – you can only connect them looking backward,'" says Dr. Sankar Arumugam, an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State who is principal investigator and project director of the grant. "We will be looking at more than 50 years' worth of climate, water and ecological data and trying to connect the dots."
Researchers will also be creating tools to develop near-term climate change projections customized for the southern U.S., so that integrated surface water and groundwater models can be developed for better managing water infrastructure systems to supply water for human and ecological demands.
In addition, researchers will use models that simulate the actions and interactions of a population to better understand the effect of public attitudes on the success of water management policies.
Other NC State researchers involved with the project include Dr. Kenneth Kunkel, research professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences; Dr. Kumar Mahinthakumar, professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; Dr. Emily Zechman, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; and Dr. Tushar Sinha, postdoctoral researcher. NC State will receive approximately $900,000 of the grant funding, which will also support one additional postdoctoral researcher and two Ph.D. students. The remainder of the funding will go to Arizona State and the University of Georgia.
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