Water Systems Management Lab


Under the immense ecological strains presented by climate change, rapid population growth and increasing global industrialization, sustainable management of water resources becomes a key factor in maintaining the health of the planet. While technological advancements play an important role in increasing the efficiency of our water use in agricultural, industrial and domestic settings, directed efforts in allocation and end-use become necessary to ensure that this natural resource can satisfy human expansion rates. Along with implementation of systems to reduce stress on water resources, the conduction of field studies and design of models are necessary for monitoring impact severity.

The University of California, Merced Water Systems Management Lab is devoted to combating issues relating to water availability, quality and distribution using modernized, interdisciplinary approaches. Topics of research interest in the lab include agricultural production, consumptive use, hydro-economic modeling and water-informatics.

While the use of computer-based modeling can be highly effective in aiding researchers in understanding water issues, models often have shortcomings that limit their ability to be applied reliably. A key focus of models going forward into the twenty-first century is the effects of climate change on agricultural and cattle production schemes. However, creating proper representations of these systems requires the consideration of complex factors such as economic demands and farmer adaptation in the face of shifting growing conditions. Additionally, the accuracy of such models is limited by the overwhelming number of localized factors that cannot feasibly be accounted for on a widespread scale. Therefore, academics interested in modeling seek to minimize these flaws to generate the best results possible.

Studies on agricultural production seek to determine and remediate the impacts of environmental/policy changes on crop yields and distribution. Goals of this analysis include improving food availability and economic viability of farming as well as reduction of environmental consequences due to crop production. Facilitation of these objectives is attained through the application of predictive modeling, study of environmental status (including soil health and water quality) and conduction of field impact analysis. Results from studies in this sector may be important tools in advising policymakers and agricultural producers.

Studies regarding consumptive use take account of the amount of water being removed from a given system, primarily through the process of evapotranspiration. Regional data for consumptive use can be used to gauge local water needs and advise on water resource allocation. Better understanding of consumptive use trends is important in determining realistic agricultural water use goals for farmers and for estimating environmental impacts of agricultural activity. Data collection is commonly enabled through field studies and/or advanced computer modeling.

The field of hydro-economic modeling concerns itself with producing methods for predicting computational representations of the economics associated with water resources. With economic incentives forming one of the major drivers for improving the conditions of water use, especially in the agricultural sector, creating models that help to disseminate knowledge on these topics is of high importance. Modeling of hydro-economics seeks to optimize agricultural production given environmental parameters such as drought status, to limit the dependence on groundwater resources through allocation management, to evaluate economic impacts associated with climate change and to assist in developing water rights policy.

Water-informatics (hydro-informatics) is the field of study concerned with the collection, assortment, distribution and analysis of information relating to water resources. Interdisciplinary approaches are strongly valued to facilitate these goals, often including fields such as hydrology, system hydraulics, information management, water management, dynamic computer modeling, environmental policy and education. The use of geo-spatial modeling and imaging software is typically applied in combination with field data to help guide researchers in hydro-informatics as they seek to improve water availability and quality.

Other projects undertaken by the Water Systems Management Lab include international water quality initiatives (FABRI) and open-source distribution of models for evaluating California’s water resources (HOBBES).