Wicked problems are characterized by a resistance to solution. Proposed solutions are not good or bad; they are defined as right or wrong. Decisions have to be made in the presence of deep uncertainty, and the problem formulation itself can be in question.
Management of water resources is inherently a wicked problem. Public policy decisions related to resource management in general require resolution of competing objectives as best as possible. In addition, these management choices must be made without a clear idea of the availability of the associated resource. Allocating use of existing water supplies has become critically important in recent years, as overuse, in conjunction with severe levels of drought, have placed aquifers in jeopardy. The imbalances in aquifer levels are especially dire in regions whose economies are heavily dependent on agriculture, as irrigation of crops accounts for more than 80% of the usage of groundwater resources.
Our multidisciplinary research team, funded in part by the American Institute of Mathematics, has developed a software environment to help water management agencies evaluate strategies for water conservation and water supplementation efforts. We use simulation-based optimization to evaluate a suite of options available to members of an agricultural community and provide analytics on possible solutions. These data can be used to help water management agencies make decisions that will have community support. The talk will include information on case studies we have conducted based on agricultural regions in California and discuss our path forward.