UC Merced’s largest research grant in its 16-year history aims to improve agricultural and environmental water resilience. The new $10 million collaborative focuses on water banking, trading and improvements in data-driven management practices to arrive at a climate-resilient future in water-scarce regions of the United States.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it is funding the the wide-ranging effort from multiple institutions across three states through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative on Sustainable Agricultural Systems. The coalition of researchers is led by UC Merced, joined by experts from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Utah State University, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute at New Mexico State University, the Public Policy Institute of California, Environmental Defense Fund, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwestern Climate Hub.
“There are a lot of challenges in balancing the needs of agriculture and ecosystems, and climate change and drought are only exacerbating difficult decisions about how to sustain water resources,” lead Project Director Professor Joshua Viers said. “But our team of advisors, educators and scientists are eager to enable data-driven decision-making for securing a climate resilient future for our water-stressed regions.”
The partners in the USDA funded collaboration — Securing a Climate Resilient Water Future for Agriculture and Ecosystems through Innovations in Measurement, Management and Markets or SWIM — will focus on developing more robust, data-driven information systems for decision-makers such as land and water managers. SWIM is designed to provide objective measures of supply and demand, and incorporate drought forecasting and climate change trends.
The research and extension team, by working with local decision-makers, will improve the accuracy of measurement in water budgets, evaluate novel management strategies such as on-farm aquifer recharge, and evaluate water trading and markets to improve sustainable surface and groundwater use.
The SWIM project will work across disciplines and stakeholders, integrating research, extension and education in three testbeds with unique water policies and systems: Cache Valley, Utah; Mesilla Valley, New Mexico; and the San Joaquin Valley. All of them grow orchard crops and alfalfa, and all are in a drought. Like California, Utah is experiencing an unprecedented drought, where 99 percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought. And, like California, the physical and cultural geography of New Mexico is extremely diverse. Exploring all innovative avenues of water management is necessary for sustaining a future for agriculture and surrounding communities while balancing ecosystem needs across the west, Viers said.
SWIM’s leadership plans such activities as workshops and field days to actively engage stakeholders, including the extension-grower networks of each state’s university system, as well as land, water and ecosystem managers.
Researchers from UC Merced include Viers, professors John Abatzoglou, Tom Harmon, Teamrat Ghezzehei, Josué Medellín-Azuara and Colleen Naughton, UC ANR Extension Specialist Safeeq Khan, Chelsea Arnold, who oversees the CalTeach program through the School of Natural Sciences, and researchers Leigh Bernacchi, Max Eriksson and Nicholas Santos.