CNH-Ex: Balancing Water Needs and Water Uses for Humans and Nature

Mountain basins and the headwaters of river basins along the foothills of major mountain ranges are undergoing rapid environmental change due to urban development, land acquisition by private and public investors, demographic expansion, and climate change. The classical water infrastructure in these regions, if it is even present, is usually primarily designed to meet water supply and irrigation needs only.  Besides increased water demand, other impacts of anthropogenic land-use change are the shrinking of groundwater recharge areas, removal of vegetation, and the alteration of links between the landscape and the natural hydraulic system. Plus, regional climate change can affect the gross water balance due to changes in precipitation and evapotranspiration. Climate-hydrology-ecosystem feedbacks can in turn significantly change regional land-cover. The challenge toward sustainable and reliable water allocation policies is to preserve a functioning landscape that reflects key bio-physical hydro-connections (eco-hydrological sustainability) while meeting the basic water demands of natural and infrastructure systems.   


This research addresses the question of whether this challenge can be addressed by factoring the opportunity costs of environmental constraints, and economic value of conservation strategies into hydro economic assessments of water allocation policy at the basin level.  The research objectives are two-fold: 1) to develop an eco-hydrological meta-model for use in systematic economic analysis of water resources (soil moisture, groundwater, stream, vegetation), including their interactions and space-time variability; and 2) to characterize the contribution of \changes in water balance due to eco-hydrologic feedbacks of LULC (Land Use and Land Cover) and climate change to the economics of alternative adaptation strategies (land-conversion and water allocation policies).   Specifically, an exiting spatially–distributed eco-hydrological model with coupled surface-groundwater and vegetation dynamics will be integrated with an existing water allocation model in the context of a probabilistic hydro-economic framework.  This meta-model will be used to investigate water system behavior with respect to three state variables: a) extent of land-conversion (LC) defined in terms of LULC ; b) eco-hydrological sustainability (ES) defined in terms of  hydrological and ecological flows; and c) net present value (NPV), for baseline conditions (current climate, status-quo policy), and for alternative adaptation pathways under possible scenarios of future climate change.  


An innovated integrated meta-model and knowledge base framework for two-way feedback analysis between natural and urban systems will be developed to investigate adaptation strategies using water valuation metrics produced through systematic simulation procedures. The modeling framework will be tested and evaluated for the French Broad River in the Southern Appalachians, a representative case-study of mountain basins undergoing strong development pressures, in close collaboration with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council of natural resource managers. The research addresses national climate adaptation priorities to enable resilient communities, and is readily transferable to regions elsewhere undergoing large environmental change. The team expertise intersects Hydrology and Climate (Barros), Social Sciences and Water Resource Economics (Jeuland), Water Governance and Policy (Holman), Political Science and Econometrics (De Marchi), and Operations Research and Complex System Analysis (Trivedi), and two graduate students with interdisciplinary educational goals