CAREER: Science for Sustainable and Resilient Groundwater Management
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Sustainable management of groundwater requires the judicious allocation of resources to meet societal, ecological, and environmental needs, both now and over the long-term. Historically, groundwater sustainability has been narrowly defined in terms of protecting aquifers from contamination and limiting pumping to match groundwater use with recharge. However, a broader paradigm is necessary, one which considers the diverse requirements of multiple, sometimes conflicting consumers of groundwater, including groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs), and one which fosters aquifer resilience to changes in the hydroclimate. In order to develop this paradigm, the PI has the long-term career goals of promoting the sustainable management of groundwater resources by advancing the scientific understanding of groundwater dependent ecosystems and by providing engineering and water resources professionals with tools to incorporate sustainability into their decision making processes. This CAREER grant aims to further these goals through three project specific research objectives: 1) integrate the representation of GDEs into land-surface and groundwater availability models; 2) test and create improved metrics for quantifying sustainability and resilience of groundwater resources; and 3) explore management strategies for optimizing groundwater withdrawals to reduce impacts on GDEs and prevent water system failures. These will be complemented by three project specific educational objectives: 1) teach sustainable engineering practices across the civil engineering curriculum; 2) improve the application of sustainability principles by groundwater professionals; and 3) enhance the diversity of the engineering workforce by using sustainability concepts as a tool to engage those from underrepresented groups. This project addresses critical gaps that prevent a holistic assessment of the sustainability of groundwater resources and their resilience to climate and anthropogenic stressors. It targets to improve the modeling of GDEs, as well as create new metrics for assessing the impact of groundwater management decisions on these sensitive ecosystems. Using these metrics, it will explore new optimization methods to create more sustainable and resilient groundwater systems. The project tests the hypothesis that teaching and researching sustainability is beneficial to the recruitment, retention and engagement of students from under-represented groups in engineering, particularly women. The PI''s CAREER plan integrates research and education within the existing framework for the professional development of civil engineers, who are expected to be able to define, explain, apply, and analyze sustainability principles, in relation to engineering design, before they are licensed to practice in the field. At the student level, the project will develop course modules for teaching sustainability throughout the civil engineering curriculum; materials will be drawn from the PI?s research on both groundwater modeling and sustainability metrics. Students will participate in the research through course projects, and student volunteers will lead the publication of these results. These activities will directly impact the education of up to 1900 undergraduates and 50 graduate students at Texas A&M University, as well as that of the one Ph.D. student and five undergraduates funded by the project. Course materials will be disseminated to a wider audience through the PI''s ongoing outreach activities and through existing NSF sponsored websites, potentially improving pedagogic approaches for teaching sustainability in civil engineering at universities across the country. At the professional level, the project will create two new continuing-education opportunities for groundwater managers, consultants, and policy makers which will aid in broadly disseminating research to enhance understanding and benefits to society. A workshop on the relationship between desired future conditions and the sustainability and resilience of an aquifer will invite stakeholders to guide this research project at its start and will produce a report on research and education needs for groundwater management. A short-course on groundwater sustainability metrics and modeling will teach professionals about decision making tools available for sustainable groundwater allocation, including those developed by this project.