Scientists have figured out how much water will be needed in the future and when there will be a water crisis

A new study by scientists from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering combines climate and land-use models to predict future water availability. In their research, published in the journal Water, scientists provide information that is critical to planning and assessing natural resources and land use.

“Our study presents a new method that can be used to generate future climate predictions for existing hydrological models,” explains Gang Chen, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the college. “By integrating more reliable future climate data, existing hydrological models can more accurately predict future water scenarios in the face of climate change.”

Chen leads a group of experts to develop new data processing techniques to improve hydrological modeling needed for water management planning.

The researchers used their method to study hydrological processes in the watershed of the Upper Choctauhatchee River in Alabama, which eventually flows into Florida and empties into Choctauhatchee Bay. They combined land-use projections with future climate data to study the cumulative impact on the hydrological response of the catchment.

“Using water balance modeling, we found that runoff and evapotranspiration are the main pathways for water loss in the southeast,” Chen said.

Yashar Makhtumi, a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is working with Chen on new methods to scale results. An innovative process provides more data and improves simulation results.

“There have been several research projects to study the combined effects of land-use change and climate change using forecasts,” Makhtumi said.

The research results showed that the impact on variable water resources was seasonal. Surface runoff caused the most significant changes in the various models. Evapotranspiration also mattered, albeit to a lesser extent. All models show that by mid-century, more frequent water balance extremes are projected to become a problem.

While the study focuses on one watershed, scientists believe their work could be applied on a wider scale.

“Our model has demonstrated that it can accurately capture hydrological parameters and can be used for future water quality studies,” Chen said. “It can provide the data we need to create the sustainable conservation practices needed now and in the future, and help manage and protect our water resources.”