The dynamics of rural poverty, land use, and water in California's changing Central Valley
This interdisciplinary project will analyze the complex relationships between surface and groundwater supply, agricultural land use decisions, and economic wellbeing in rural disadvantaged communities. Some of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States are threatened by unsustainable groundwater pumping. This leaves large landowners and disadvantaged communities highly vulnerable to unexpected shortages in surface water supply for personal and agricultural use. Regions such as these face difficult tradeoffs between economic and water security. This project will identify and quantify the feedback between water supply sustainability and economic productivity in agricultural areas and will enhance support for decision making regarding infrastructure and regulation, thereby helping to improve the robustness and resilience of these communities. The project will yield models that integrate ground and surface water supplies with land use and socioeconomic information to develop future scenarios that can be used for management and planning. The models will be informed by participatory involvement of stakeholders and policy makers, which will help improve decision-support tools and advance communication among different groups based on the findings from the scenarios. The broader impacts of this project will focus on assisting local disadvantaged communities participate in the governance of water resources, including the formulation of "Water Schools" to increase the participation of K-12 students from underrepresented groups in science and policy issues. The project will provide interdisciplinary research education and training for graduate and undergraduate students who will be involved in all aspects of the research and community engagement activities. The project will generate knowledge that can better inform agricultural management decisions in rural areas, their impacts on water consumption, and approaches for mitigating the inequities in disadvantaged communities that can accompany these environmental changes.
The project's research objectives are the development of a coupled hydrologic and land use model to illustrate the feedback between the natural and human systems, the inclusion of stakeholder perspectives on drought resilience, and the development of adaptation strategies that will be tested using the integrated model reflecting stakeholder preferences. Model development will require the integration of components that typically are treated separately, including rainfall-runoff processes, groundwater flow and contaminant transport, and agricultural planting decisions, all of which impact the management of surface and groundwater storage. A participatory modeling process will engage stakeholders to inform the model assumptions, uncertainties, its development and analysis tools, resulting in a transparent way that integrates local knowledge with scientific data to produce effective policy action. Finally, the value of adaptive strategies will be assessed using a cooperative game-theory approach to understand the tradeoffs between stakeholders with conflicting preferences. While this project will focus on the Tulare Basin in California's Central Valley, a region which exemplifies the challenges of extensive agricultural production, limited water supply, and significant disadvantaged communities, the project will provide new insights and approaches for other regions of the United States facing similar difficult tradeoffs between economic and water security. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.