2018-2021 – Maneta


State and local water agencies have a mission to conserve, manage, develop, and sustain the watersheds, water resources, and management systems within their domains. They have to do so while ensuring an adequate supply of water to a range of water users, often with conflicting interests. Within their mandate is also the development of strategic plans to enable policymakers and elected officials to make informed decisions about investments and policies that will ensure a sustainable use of water resources. With current water supplies fully committed, and decreasing opportunities to develop new sources of sufficient quality, these strategic plans will need to shift the focus to improving the efficiency of existing water supplies to satisfy growing demands (US Army Corps of Engineers and US Army Corps of Engineers 2012). Other than natural ecosystems, agriculture is the largest water user in the western U.S. Promoting adaptive farming strategies is key to increasing water use efficiency, agriculture sustainability and water security.

Understanding how farmers adapt to changing natural conditions is critical for developing efficient policies to support producer welfare, enhance food security, and protect the environment. The objective of this project is to develop a transformative satellite-data driven decision support tool that allows policymakers and natural resource managers to anticipate agricultural water demands, to understand variability of agricultural water use, and to analyze and resolve potential imbalances between existing regional supplies and water requirements. Additionally, because our methodology simulates farmer behavior under a range of biophysical, policy, and market stressors, it allows direct analysis of the incentives that drive farmer adaptation to changing natural conditions, as well as the environmental consequences of adaptive behavior. These insights will inform long-term water policy that promotes adaptation and sustainable agricultural water use in the future. To do so, we use a state-of-the-art integrated hydro-economic model that leverages recent advances in remote sensing science and data assimilation methods to enable automatic model updates and refinements. Our methodology does not aim to optimize the way farmers should allocate land, water, and other resources under different resource constraints. More importantly for policymaking, our approach uses past observations of farmer response to anticipate how farmers will allocate these resources, and quantify the impact of those decisions on agricultural water demands, agricultural productivity and farm profits. Our methodology is designed for analysis at county or district scales or similar and predicts how the farmer community reacts and reallocates resources seasonally when confronted with new climate conditions, policy rules, or market signals.

The research develops NASA’s interests in the application of existing earth observing missions for water management and agricultural applications, and specifically for applications that go beyond physical aspects to include socioeconomic dimensions. It also directly responds to the challenges faced by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, a well as other state water management agencies in the western US, as elaborated later. Specifically, we will expand the agency’s current operational methods using a combination of novel earth observations and hydro-economic models to help them better quantify and understand changes in agricultural water use, the reliability of current and projected water supplies in meeting agricultural water demands, the crops farmers are likely to grow when faced with water shortage, and the impact of different water allocation strategies on farm profits. This newly developed capacity will permit our state water agency partners to investigate the following science and management questions:

  1. How do extreme climatic events (e.g. droughts), policy action and prices affect crop mix and land use decisions?
  2. How do changes in agricultural production impact water availability?
  3. How vulnerable are agricultural systems to extreme climatic events? To what extent can they absorb the negative impacts of global change without fundamental changes?
  4. How does a diverse range of famers respond to extreme climatic events?  What choices and management practices are prioritized, and how can that inform future policy options?
  5. How can a diverse range of stakeholders mitigate the negative effects of extreme climatic events, such as impoverishment of agricultural regions, deterioration or overuse of water resources, and food insecurity?

Our methods form an end-to-end system to address these important questions that is designed to be applicable at local, regional, or subcontinental scales. However, we will focus on our EPSCoR jurisdiction to develop, refine, and demonstrate the capabilities of NASA Earth Observing System in assisting actual operational decision-making before release for use elsewhere.