A Social-Ecological Study of Agricultural Water Management

EPA Grant Number: FP917380
Title: A Social-Ecological Study of Agricultural Water Management
Investigators: Levy, Morgan C
Institution: University of California - Berkeley , Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Emerging Environmental Approaches and Challenges: Social Sciences


Eighty percent of California’s freshwater supply is used for agriculture. However, unlike metered urban water, agricultural water use quantities are historically unrecorded, and irrigation practices are not well understood by those outside the agriculture community. Hydrologic processes such as evapo-transpiration and return flows complicate irrigation accounting. Yet, detailed information about irrigation is critical to better safeguarding freshwater supplies. To what degree on-farm decisions impact the reliability of information about water supply and quality is largely unknown. Researching this problem requires a human-environmental systems approach.


To address the gap in understanding of agricultural water use, this study will integrate social and environmental hydrodynamic factors with a regional case study of California’s agricultural Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through original, interdisciplinary research. California is a model water-scarce region, where water issues center on the Delta, which supplies water for nearly half of the state’s farms, and supplements a majority of state drinking water. The study will collect available quantitative water use information, and supplement that with original qualitative social systems research. The study will determine which qualitative factors significantly influence quantitative accuracy, and to what degree and larger impact.

Expected Results:

An indepth review of quantitative plus qualitative information on water use will uncover significant unknowns about agricultural water use practices, showing that qualitative factors problematize the accuracy of reported water use measurement. This study will contribute unique water resources focused research to emerging scholarship on coupled human-environmental systems, creating the framework for a new social-environmental process model for water resources research.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

The research will aid in the assessment of Delta ecosystem health as a whole, inform ecosystemlinked water supply decisions elsewhere, and serve as a model for proactive collaborations between diverse stakeholders on matters of water management that sustain and protect food supplies, drinking water, jobs and the environment. Water resources challenges require new modeling schemes that incorporate social-environmental interactions, while remaining accessible to policymakers and the public alike. This research will provide an alternative to simplistic bullet-point recommendations that do not adequately address complex systems.

Supplemental Keywords:

fresh water resources, water management, agriculture, irrigation, California

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final