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MSU Researchers to Develop Management Tool for Chesapeake Bay Watershed

View of a waters edge from the water point of view.

Two Michigan State University researchers will develop a multi-objective optimization tool to help agencies make better informed management decisions for the Chesapeake Bay watershed with a $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Spanning six states and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake Bay watershed feeds the country’s largest estuary, which consists of more than 180,000 miles of streams, creeks and rivers.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the watershed helps filter and protect 75% of the drinking water for the area’s 18 million residents.

“In addition to drinking water, these waters are vital to the region’s thousands of plant and animal species,” said project co-lead Pouyan Nejadhashemi, an MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “There is also rich historical significance and plentiful opportunities for recreation.”

Headshot of Pouyan Nejadhashemi

Pouyan Nejadhashemi, MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering

While the watershed is extremely valuable, it faces an abundance of threats. Agricultural runoff, air pollution, climate change and forest loss are just a few of the many problems that need to be mitigated to preserve the watershed’s productivity.

Nejadhashemi, who also holds an appointment in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, is a leading researcher in ecohydrology — the study of water movement and quality in a multitude of environments.

He said the goal of the project is to develop, implement and validate an optimization framework by combining multiple algorithms, each utilizing a watershed model and decision makers from the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nejadhashemi said that the final tool will be applicable to other watersheds around the world.

Kalyanmoy Deb, the Koenig Endowed Chair and Professor in the MSU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is co-lead on the project. He is an expert in computer science and multi-objective optimization tools, which use large quantities of data and mathematical modeling to create systems that solve several issues simultaneously. The NSGA-II method is a highly cited strategy that Deb plans to utilize for this project.

“The use of multi-objective optimization methods will allow Chesapeake Bay watershed users and stakeholders to better understand and utilize different management practices from the points of view of the environment and cost,” said Deb, who has been working in the evolutionary multi-objective optimization area for the past 30 years.

In the first phase, the team will start at the county level and work toward larger rollouts to cover the entire multi-state area of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Once the model is ready for widespread use, the group will continue to monitor and provide oversight.

“Addressing many issues at once will be critical in our efforts to improve the conditions within the watershed,” Nejadhashemi said. “The economic and environmental implications are vast, but this is also important work for optimization tools in general. Building a system at this scale will allow us to have a model for how to do it in other watersheds around the world.”

Cameron Rudolph, Amirpouyan Nejadhashemi, and Caroline Brooks via MSU Today

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