Carnegie Mellon University
May 07, 2014

Weathering Drought: International Effort to Improve Water Management

Weathering Drought: International Effort to Improve Water Management
Lately, there have been a lot of clear skies in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, while vacationers are thrilled, the lack of rain is causing droughts in many parts of the country. In response to this stress, Costa Ricans have teamed up with scientists and engineers from Carnegie Mellon University, Canada, and France on project FuturAqua. The project aims to use a combination of physical and social science research to help Costa Rica better manage it’s increasingly limited water supply.

The physical science component involves improving weather and climate forecasting. CEE/EPP H. John Heinz Professor and CMU Principal Investigator Mitchell Small explains that this would allow more accurate modeling of the amount of water available in the environment. Better models would help Costa Rican government officials, water managers, and heads of local communities to make more effective decisions about how water is allocated and conserved. EPP research scientist Iris Grossmann is an integral part of the team focused on climatology.

But better forecasting is only half of the solution. “Costa Rica is an example of an ecological social system—the information people have interacts with the ecosystem in a very intimate way,” says Small. That means that improved estimates are only useful if decision-makers can access and easily understand them. To address these needs, EPP research scientist Gabrielle Wong-Parodi will help investigate what information Costa Ricans need to make informed water decisions and the best ways to present that information to them. 

This interdisciplinary collaboration will also be an international endeavor. Carnegie Mellon researchers will be working alongside experts from the University of British Columbia, the French Center for Agriculture Research for Development, and The Costa Rican Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center. The project is funded by a Belmont Forum G8 grant, with Carnegie Mellon’s support provided through the USA National Science Foundation. 

With the project initiated in Fall 2013, team members met in Costa Rica this past December to begin implementing their proposal. Though FuturAqua is still in its early stages, Small is enthusiastic about its potential to positively impact scientific knowledge and Costa Ricans’ quality of life. “It’s an opportunity to address real problems and learn generalizable lessons in a country with both a highly involved citizenry and a stunningly beautiful environment,” Small says.