Lehigh University –
Suppose you’re a farmer cultivating crops in a major river basin. You rely on water from the river to irrigate your fields. But you’re not the only one who depends on what is literally a liquid asset flowing through your landscape. The local utility company uses the river to provide electricity through hydropower. The county taps the river for municipal water. A variety of stakeholders draw from this common resource but have different needs at different times—and the actions of each affect the amount of water available for the others.
How should people managing dams and reservoirs store and release water to make sure farmers have enough for their crops while ensuring adequate supplies for power and household use? What technologies are necessary to provide everyone the water they need when environmental or other circumstances create supply challenges?
Answering such questions is not strictly a matter of balancing competing interests. “The goal is to maintain food, water and energy security all at the same time,” says Y.C. “Ethan” Yang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and team leader for Lehigh’s Complex Adaptive Water Systems research group.
Food, energy and water (FEW) form a nexus in which all three are interconnected in a complex system of systems that includes natural processes like runoff and snowmelt along with human behavior and policies. Farmers aren’t necessarily competing with their utility because they need energy, too—even to pump water.