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Texas A&M Receives $2.4 million NSF Grant for FEW Nexus

Published: November 8, 2017
Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) Nexus
Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) Nexus

Imagine living in an area where a lack of food, energy, or water would disrupt your everyday life.

Such a situation is a common occurrence every day around the world. In many places, the demand for water from agriculture – or even domestic water uses – far exceeds the available water supply in that region. Affecting more than just water consumption alone – this problem greatly influences food supplies and production, as well as energy availability, and highlights the impact of the broader Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) Nexus.

A region’s unique geographic, geologic, climate, population and other factors can significantly impact the relationships between food, energy, and water within that region. When food, energy, or water resources are stressed in one area, the impact can be felt in nearby areas, entire states, or nationwide.

A better understanding of the relationships between food, energy, and water is needed, and not just for one region, but in all areas.

A Texas A&M University team, led by Professor Bruce McCarl, a University Distinguished Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, is the recipient of a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find ways to improve decision-making methods for the FEW. Along with McCarl, Professors Stratos Pistikopoulos, interim co-director of the Texas A&M Energy Institute and professor of chemical engineering, Rabi Mohtar, a TEES Endowed Professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Raghavan Srinivasan, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering and ecosystem sciences and management, along researchers at the University of California, Riverside, Professors Kurt Schwabe, a professor of environmental economics and policy, Hoori Ajami, an assistant professor of groundwater hydrology and Laosheng Wu, a professor of soil physics and water management specialist, are working together in two distinct geographic regions in the United States to improve our collective knowledge.

Society depends on food, energy, and water availability and reliability. It has become increasingly apparent, however, that actions focusing on any one of these resources also affect the other two. Consequently, favorable actions for one resource may result in unintended outcomes for the others thus raising concerns over their interaction or nexus.

A situation for which FEW Nexus decision making is critical occurs especially in arid/semiarid regions experiencing rapid growth such as the United States Southwest, Egypt, Pakistan, and India. While these regions face severe water shortages, they often rely on irrigated food production, energy production, transfers of large amounts of water using substantial energy and aquifer depletion. Improved management of the arid-region FEW system that anticipates and prepares for increasing pressures on resource availability and population-associated demand growth requires an improved understanding of the intricate connections between FEW resource decisions — their Nexus.

For arid communities, typical possibilities under consideration include conservation across agriculture, municipalities, and energy producers; use of recycled or saline water; and water transfers. This project will analyze the potential improvements arising from FEW Nexus-aware decision utilizing case studies encompassing the San Antonio and Los Angeles/San Diego regions. Additionally, the project will develop analytical systems for Nexus decision evaluation within and outside these case study settings. A multidisciplinary team of hydrologists, economists, energy engineers, water engineers, agricultural experts and outreach specialists will work on the project. The team will both: (i) interact with a broad spectrum of regional FEW decision makers regarding Nexus analyses and enhancement of the usefulness and implementation of the modeling system presented, and (ii) train graduate students and postdocs in FEW Nexus system research

Texas A&M Contributions

McCarl will provide overall project oversight, as well as an evolving water/food/M&I model with 30 years of testing and development. Pistikopoulos will contribute energy systems modeling expertise, evaluating strategic options for technology, plant, energy, supply chain and megasystem operations. Mohtar’s existing Nexus model will support scientists, decision makers, and industry users that are examining options for strategic management. Srinivasan’s expertise ass a global scientist will present his development of the SWAT surface water model which is the world’s most widely used non-point-source pollution model.

In addition to the models and expertise from Texas A&M, other experts in areas such as hydrology, economics, engineering, and agriculture will come together to provide improved FEW resource decision-making tools and principles that will eventually benefit people around the world.