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Scarcity Amid Abundance: Understanding Trade-offs in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus in the Willamette River Basin

Food, energy, and water security are required for the health, prosperity and welfare of growing populations. Three resource security is also needed to prepare for anticipated land use change, wildfire, population change, climatic alterations and unpredictable future events. Food, energy and water security cannot be achieved in isolation, with supply chains that are linked at every stage, and influenced by a range of common factors (markets, laws, policies).

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Food, energy, and water security are required for the health, prosperity and welfare of growing populations. Three resource security is also needed to prepare for anticipated land use change, wildfire, population change, climatic alterations and unpredictable future events. Food, energy and water security cannot be achieved in isolation, with supply chains that are linked at every stage, and influenced by a range of common factors (markets, laws, policies). In order to to make all resource supply chains more secure, it is necessary to address the problem as a whole (as well as each link) and to assess its impact on the stability of the full system. These complex supply systems involve a number of interdependencies and vulnerabilities which, once characterized, will allow for the identification of a number of actions that will lead to reduced waste, increased efficiency, greater resilience and enhanced security. To that end, this project will 1) prepare a comprehensive model of the interrelated food-energy-water system; 2) use this as a basis for fully characterizing the food-energy-water system of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, a test case of sufficient size to demonstrate the system model’s capabilities; 3) engage stakeholders in the development and refinement of the system model to investigate the regional consequences of changes in policy related to the management of forests, reservoirs and agricultural production; 4) critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the approach through an enhanced understanding of system interdependencies and vulnerabilities, and 5) produce a modular and generalizable system model that is transferrable to other regions. Working closely with decision makers and stakeholders, this project will contribute valuable new information, tools, and understanding to co-develop adaptive capacity and improved strategies for managing the security and sustainability of our food, energy and water supplies.

The Willamette River Basin (WRB) is one of the few remaining watersheds in the western US that currently has sufficient water to reliably support agricultural and municipal demands. Anticipated stressors in the region include: doubling in population, snowpack decline of up to 95% in the coming century, and a 200-900% increase in forest fires. Stakeholders and decision makers also have an obligation to protect fish populations via the maintenance of both streamflow levels and water quality. In combination, these factors are imposing significant changes in food, water, and energy security. One emerging key question is: how can we best use our limited resources to satisfy competing demands while also securing food, water and energy for growing populations both within and outside the WRB? Substantial gaps exist in critical information required to address these questions. With project stakeholders, the problem is to understand the current and future potential tradeoffs related to food, water and energy in the Willamette Basin, developing integrated strategies that will lead to productive and sustainable futures. This project will implement a complete modeling framework that integrates water, energy, and food within a modeling framework that incorporates understanding of the natural environment, the engineered systems, the human decision makers, and the economy. Willamette Envision will allow a “rehearsal” of the future; an exploration of the potential interactions, feedbacks, and consequences of policies, resource management decisions, climate impacts and population growth. The model will be open source and fully transferrable, such that it can be used for any basin(s) in the world. Willamette Envision can evaluate how climate change, population growth, and economic development will alter the availability and the use of water, consumption and generation of energy and production of food in the Willamette River on timescales ranging from decadal to centennial. A transferrable nexus modeling framework, developed via this effort will be distilled from the outputs of a highly resolved fully integrated social-ecological systems model. The inputs, uncertainties and feedbacks identified within this framework will represent the irreducible limit of complexity for a FEWS system model. The refined and user-friendly model will form the basis of a transferrable educational, outreach and scientific tool. With this tool, students, managers, policy makers and stakeholders will be able to explore resource tradeoffs, and the impact of policy decisions, regulations, and economy. In conjunction with the simplified model development, the project will host training workshops for teachers in the summer where in class and online instructional modules will be developed to be used in conjunction with our modeling efforts. The outcomes of the research will also be transformed into web-based decision support tools and interactive web-based infographics, to be distributed to stakeholders. The outreach effort to teachers and students through Oregon Science and Math Experiences format will provide hands-on STEM experiences to 650 underrepresented students (through 63 teachers) in grades 4-12 using already established lines of communication.

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