Integrated Model for the Water-Food-Energy Nexus

(original posting on Dec. 12, 2016)

As part of the America’s Water Initiative, the Columbia Water Center is developing an integrated model in an attempt to understand the dynamics of the Water-Energy-Food nexus under climate variability. This endeavour is unique in the sense that the model is spatially explicit for the whole of the conterminous US, enabling the propagation of processes beyond watersheds, aquifers or state boundaries.

The development of this integrated model started just over a year ago. It is the fruit of a tremendous effort led by James Rising (UC Berkeley), who developed the framework necessary to implement such a project (see OptiMimi), with the help of a core team of developers and advisers ranging from undergraduates to professors.

Despite its early stage, the model already encompasses surface and ground water components, an agricultural model, a representation of exogenous demands, distribution networks and the reconstruction of the last 60 years of climatic conditions. The model has reached an exciting phase: it is now possible to devise scenarios and obtain a quantitative assessment by interrogating it.

Among the many potential research questions, a first quantification of agriculture sensitivity to water availability is underway. Assuming current agricultural practices and crop choices, we investigate how crop production would be affected if we were to experience the various climatic conditions that happened over the last 50 years. In addition, the constructed framework allows us to go beyond the simulation of predefined scenarios and to perform optimization to inform decision-making. For instance, where crops should be cultivated to limit irrigation while maintaining current production levels.

We believe that the proposed approach presents many opportunities to further develop our understanding of the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus, but also to inform policy-makers in the process of building the world of tomorrow.  In the hope that we aroused interest, we wish to conclude by inviting anyone to participate, whereas it is by sharing your thoughts, using the model or actively taking part in the development of the code. Please send an email to if you wish to receive additional information or to join our team !

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