Environmental Flow Optimization in the San Juan River, NM

The global human population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by the year 2050. As our population grows, so will our demand for fresh water. Combined with the predicted decrease in water availability due to climate change, our impact on freshwater ecosystems will likely be greater than ever before. In the American southwest, this conflict plays a large role, as the semi-arid climate places even more importance on water for both human society and freshwater ecosystems.

Researchers and managers are currently addressing this conflict by determining the quantity, quality, and patterns of water flows required to sustain freshwater ecosystems while also providing the services that human society relies on (also known as environmental flows). For regulated rivers, the predominant paradigm in environmental flows management is to emulate the natural flow regime that was present before human alteration (i.e. dams, diversions, irrigation channels, etc.). Studies have shown that native fishes are adapted to such a natural flow regime (e.g. Poff et al. 1997). However, this paradigm does not necessarily address the presence of nonnatives that expanded their range in response to the altered river and are now competing or preying upon native species. In fact, some studies have shown that emulating a natural flow regime may have only a limited effect, if any, on nonnatives.

Collaborating with Dr. Nathan R. Franssen and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, we are using tools from operations research and industrial engineering to improve the way we manage flows in the San Juan River, NM, which was dammed in 1962 to provide water for irrigation. We are developing a framework that prescribes options for water releases from the Navajo Reservoir that best balance three objectives: (1) maximizing benefits to native fish communities, (2) minimizing benefits to nonnative fish communities, and (3) minimizing the deficit between water provided to users on the San Juan versus the water they demand.

Freshwater Invertebrate Occupancy Models

What traits influence a species’ ability to colonize or persist in an area? How can we track the presence of species if we are unable to detect them perfectly? Working with the Lytle Lab at Oregon State, the Muneepeerakul Lab at Arizona State, and the Department of Defense, we are using dynamic occupancy models to determine the biodiversity of aquatic invertebrates on dryland military bases in the Huachuca Canyon of Arizona, accounting for imperfect detection in stream sampling. Taking a Bayesian hierarchical approach, we are able to determine the rates at which these invertebrates are colonizing into and persisting within streams in the canyon. In addition, we can correlate these colonization and persistence rates with species traits such as dispersal ability and body size.

Climate Adaptation Board Game

The world is experiencing warming at an unprecedented rate. As a result of increased carbon emissions, we are a point where climate change prevention is no longer possible. Rather, we must be ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Thus, the Washington Office of Science and Technology Policy hosted a national game jam with climate adaptation as the theme in order to promote game development that teaches people about this issue. As a result of the jam, my group has a prototype of a climate adaptation board game that we continue to develop. We hope to bring this game to publication for use as both an educational tool and a form of entertainment. You can read more about the project here.

One thought on “Projects

  1. Pingback: FOJBI Friday: Meet William Chen, Gamer Scientist – AKANews – Featured Articles

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