In a recent conversation with an acquaintance, she asked me “What do you do besides frustrate people with algebra?”. Sadly, she was serious. She had no idea of the use of mathematics outside of designing torture mechanisms for young people in school. Our team had begun our initial work on what we call the “berry problem”, and I was able to describe our efforts to help stakeholders in the Pajaro Valley region in California balance water needs among competing interests.
This problem is one realization of a scenario that is becoming common across the country. Estelle Basor eloquently wrote of the existence of a farming community in the region for generations. (See blog of 4/18/2013.) Agriculture needs, along with increased urbanization, have stressed the underlying aquifer, leading to significant saltwater contamination of water supply wells. The region has been studied for decades, and hydrologists understand the sustainable yield that will prevent further degradation of the resources. Primary crops in the region include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and lettuce. In fact, as Estelle mentioned in her earlier post, at least 60% of the strawberries produced in the U.S. are grown in this region. (California produces almost 90% of the berries available in a given year!) Strawberries require significant irrigation, so it’s infeasible for an entire farm to be dedicated to strawberries and allow the farmer to operate under the water use limit.
Our team has designed a 100-acre “model” farm that we have used to forecast profitability and water use given certain planting rules for a variety of crops. We use the model in an optimization framework to give farmers strategies for maintaining their livelihood under restrictions imposed by the water management agency. Our future work will include use of more sophisticated modeling tools for the farm environment and analysis of infiltration networks.
We are honored to be able to contribute to solving a problem that has wide applicability and environmental impact.
Lea Jenkins, Clemson University
Kathleen Fowler, Clarkson University
John Chrispell, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Farthing, USACE, ERDC
Matt Parno, MIT