The Texas A&M WEF Nexus Research Group works to identify the new tools that will provide societies and their policy makers with the information required for informed decision making in order to bridge the anticipated global water gap for the agricultural sector, where water use remains heaviest, and for the energy sector, which is intimately linked to water and food production.
Non-traditional water will be an essential part of addressing the challenge. Effective assessment tools to determine the potential and the feasibility of using non-traditional water require thermodynamic modeling and innovative, physical-based methodologies for green water accounting that enables quantification and modelling of the interconnected WEF systems; allow trade off analyses of these systems; account for externalities such as population growth, economic development, sustainability, climate change, etc.
The WEF Nexus Research Team has three primary objectives:
1) Develop and deploy Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus Analytic Platforms and Tools to provide a basis for sustainable resource management strategies, based upon quantification of the resource (water, energy, land, financial, societal) requirements:
- quantify inter-linkages for the resources nexus
- develop tradeoffs and protocols for their assessment
- enable assessment of sustainability of water, energy and food systems
- apply W-E-F scenarios across ecological and socio-economic zones
- identify inter-linkages between energy, water, food systems
- provide a dynamic model to enable decision-makers and stakeholders to systematically integrate policy preferences based upon comparative scenarios and their respective resource requirements.
For a prototype WEF Nexus Tool 2.0 can be accessed at: http://wefnexustool.org/login.php
2) Develop better thermodynamic modeling, including scalable models, for Green water accounting. Soil thermodynamics and soil structure are affected by local practices that are not currently integrated into hydrological processes at the landscape scale. Hydrologic models and tools are effective at providing the data needed for watershed level events, but, the thermodynamic state of the soil water medium constitutes the local physical conditions of development for all biological and geochemical processes within the soil medium. It is still not well defined and characterized. This situation limits modeling and coupling the different processes in the soil medium. Because these are thermodynamically linked to the soil water cycle, improved thermodynamic modelling will allow more effective accounting for green water resources.
A description of the model (Braudeau and Mohtar, 2014) is available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1081/E-EAFE2-120049111#.VMAQSEdOSSo.
The Theory Brochure is available at: Theory Brochure
3) Assess the feasibility of non-traditional water for irrigation and for helping to bridge the water gap: economic, technical, soil quality, health impact at the lab and field scales. Understanding the implications of soil property changes that result from repeated wastewater applications is essential. Reducing reliance on fresh water by allowing an additional safe, global water resource for food production is essential to our future water-food-energy security.
Examples of Activities
♦ Bridging the Water Deficit: a Texas case study (Water Scarcity and Implications): The 2012 State Water Plan for Texas indicates an anticipated water gap of 40% by the year 2060, with supply demand deficit of 8.24 billion m3. The State plans to meet 60% of the gap by using conventional water sources, 24% through conservation, and 16% from non-conventional water supply (reuse and desalination). The plan also predicts that 2.24 billion m3 of water will be needed to generate electricity in 2060. Due to high variability in ecology, climate, population, and types of activities in the different regions of the State, the plan divides the state into 16 regional water planning zones, each characterized by distinct populations, water demands and existing water supplies. Even though the expected water gap is state wide, each zone will be impacted differently.
♦ Effectively bridging the water gap in Texas requires multiple solutions that vary with the region, and depend upon resource availability versus need, as well as the type of water consumption activities happening in each zone. Questions arise such as: can we better utilize green water to reduce stresses? Can we use New water in energy and agriculture? What will work where? While the problems remain similar, the solutions must be scenario specific, giving rise to the need for a holistic assessment with localized solutions. The Texas A&M WEF Nexus team is offering a graduate course, Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Toward Sustainable Resource Management, in which the principles and applications of the WEF nexus to state, national and international WEF securities and the interlinkages between them will be studied. Students will explore the quantitative framework, using it to develop and assess sustainable tradeoffs of resources. Hands on experiences using the 16 ‘regions’ identified by the Texas Water Distribution Board will enable students to work on relevant real world projects. The course will culminate in a one day symposium with regional stakeholders and decision-makers from the public and private sector where the potential solutions will be discussed and the outcomes published.
♦ Transport-Hydraulic Fracturing-Water Nexus: in Texas alone, more than 4,890 drilling permits were issued in the past 5 years (Rail Road Commission of Texas, 2014). The Eagle Ford Shale formation has contributed to energy security, while providing economic growth opportunities. This has additional social and environmental impacts, including upon local infrastructure (roads and lifelines). Transportation is the vehicle through which resources move. Proper design and maintenance of infrastructure is key to the mobility of food, water, energy, and humans. Our team is particularly interested in looking at these flows and at the increased utilization of road infrastructure resulting from the increased hydraulic fracturing activity in Texas. It raises important questions, whose answers will enable us to expand and enjoy the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, while minimizing its unintended consequences. Questions such as: How do we maximize the advantages of the hydraulic fracturing industry? While minimizing its unintended consequences? What are the trade-offs for different scenario options? How can we identify those options that will ensure sustainable development for local communities? How do we further scale up to ensure sustainable development for Texas? How is the fracturing industry interlinked with other WEF systems? How do we quantify the impact of each system on the others?