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U of I Awarded Grant for Modeling Project to Improve US’s Resilience to Water Scarcity

MOSCOW, Idaho — Jan. 17, 2024 — University of Idaho will lead a modeling project to enhance water budget predictions in the contiguous United States after being awarded a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 104g National Competitive Grant. This is the first time a scientist in Idaho has won the grant in the past two decades.

U of I Assistant Professor Meng Zhao will lead the more than $618,000 project in collaboration with Yanlan Liu at The Ohio State University and Howard Reeves at USGS Upper Midwest Water Science Center.

Hydrologic models are important tools for preparing for environmental changes and managing water resources. However, current models do not fully account for below-ground processes concerning how water, soil and vegetation interact — processes that are especially important when predicting water resource availability.

“Water lost to the atmosphere from plants and soils is the primary way our groundwater is returned to the atmosphere, putting limitations on the amount of water available for irrigation and recreation,” Zhao said. “By improving our modeling of groundwater, we will know how much water is left for us human beings to use.”

By modifying a state-of-the-art model and comparing it with various water budget observations, the team is looking to improve three areas of water budget models for the contiguous United States: 

  1. How much water can be held in the root zone.
  2. How much water plants take up, especially when stressed.
  3. How water flows across different types of soil layers.

By capturing weather conditions at 4-kilometer grid spacing, the testing model will incorporate differences in microclimates across the landscape.

The team’s findings should help improve the modeling of water supply and availability across the contiguous United States, which is especially important as the water cycle rapidly evolves under a warming climate with increasing extreme events and human-induced land use change. 

“By gaining a better understanding of how the nation’s water budget is changing, scientists can increase the nation’s resilience to water scarcity and hazards,” Zhao said.

This project, “Improving hydrological predictions across CONUS through better characterization of below-ground soil-vegetation processes,” was funded under U.S. Geological Survey award G24AP00031. The total amount of federal funds for the project is $309,324, which 100% of is the federal share. Matching funds through the University of Idaho will contribute $309,324.