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WSC-Category 2 Collaborative: Robust Decision- making for South Florida Water Resources by Ecosystem Service Valuation, Hydro-economic Optimization and Conflict Resolution Modeling

Principle Investigator: David Watkins, Civil & Env. Eng.
Sponsor: NSF
Award Amount: $430,497
Project Duration: 1/1/2013-12/31/2017
MTU Reference Code: 1110089

Intellectual Merit
We propose a cross-disciplinary approach utilizing the expertise of multiple institutions to investigate the behavioral dimensions of decision-making for water management and land use plans under various climate change, economic, population, and seal level rise (SLR) scenarios. Our study site is south Florida, a region with many competing water allocation targets, which is subject to extreme climate variability and threatened by SLR. We employ new optimization modeling approaches based on robust-decision making to develop management strategies that enhance the resilience and sustainability of water supplies for the built and natural systems, while also accounting for the broad-sector value of water use. Optimization criteria in the model will incorporate the results of new research linking water management, ecological functioning, and the economic value of ecosystem services in collaboration with the NSF-funded Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER) program. New experimental approaches will be implemented to better understand the impacts of information type and uncertainty in the processes of both selecting decision criteria and evaluating model outcomes among individuals and groups of local stakeholders. These experiments are designed to improve our understanding of the roles of cognitive and perceptual biases in risk assessment and decision-making when hydro-economic optimizations are coupled with scenario forecasts. Finally, with agency and stakeholder involvement we will collaboratively develop recommendations for adaptive water management plans that foster long-term support.

Broader Impacts
Low-lying coastal regions, such as south Florida, which are subject to SLR, climate change, and growing populations will benefit from the development of this innovative, pragmatic approach to optimizing the social-ecological benefits of water resources allocated between the built and natural environments. Our work will include novel approaches for dynamically incorporating economic assessments into stakeholder evaluations of adaptive land use and water management strategies. Participating local, state, and federal agencies responsible for managing the region’s water resources will benefit from these broad-sector analyses of adaptive schemes that explicitly incorporate uncertainty estimates of potential outcomes. Comparative behavioral analysis of stakeholder evaluations and institutional decision-making will provide unique insights into how information type, information content and cognitive biases combine to influence risk perception under different hydro-economic scenarios, and how the perceived risks to specific indicators of individual and collective well-being influence scenario selection. Societies such as those in south Florida, whose options for managing public water resources are limited by climatic, physical or legal constraints, require this type of integrated assessment to promote cooperative decision-making while preparing for uncertain hydro-climatic conditions and socioeconomic future.

Under-represented minorities and women will be recruited for all graduate and post-doctoral positions. We will train a total of 4 undergraduate and 11 graduate students in economics (2), behavioral sciences (2), ecosystem sciences (3), environmental policy (2), climatology (1), and hydrologic modeling (1), as well as 4 post-doctoral level researchers. Junior investigators will be expected to present findings at the annual meetings planned as part of this project. Outcomes from the project will be broadly disseminated through publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentations to be made at various venues, including scientific meetings, civic and environmental organizations, and government agencies. The project will engage a diverse array of people via surveys and via stakeholder meetings, specifically incorporating the lower income and Hispanic American communities in south Florida.