Mason receives NSF grant for Conservation Incentives and the Socio-Spatial Dynamics of Water Sustainability

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Clean water is a vital component of life, and without it, human existence as it’s known today would quickly cease. This is largely why water conservation is an important and ever- growing concern, particularly when it comes to natural resources, like rivers, and the allocation and management of fresh water resources. 

Shima Mohebbi, assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Computing at George Mason University, together with researchers from the University of Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Clark University, Oklahoma State University, and Florida International University, received a nearly $1.6 million project grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Conservation Incentives and the Socio-Spatial Dynamics of Water Sustainability.  

Although this project focuses on the Red River, the second-largest basin located in the southern part of the United States, Mohebbi says the solutions and lessons gained throughout are transferable to water systems around the world.  

“Water resource management is a complex problem that is affected by water scarcity, the impact of climate change on water supplies, and decision-makers’ behavior (behind water conservation policies),” Mohebbi says. “Capturing the complex feedback between social and environmental systems over time can raise new fundamental questions in the field of Operations Research and Systems Engineering. This in turn can help with further understanding the intricacies behind water resource management and incentives allocation." 

Under this grant, Mohebbi will develop novel game theory models to understand how conflicts and propensities for cooperative behavior among water users — including farmers — might vary over time across the river network.  

The project will start in January 2022 and will run for five years. Working alongside colleagues from fields including geography and environmental sustainability, ecology, and agricultural engineering, Mohebbi says the project’s end goal is to demonstrate how voluntary conservation incentives—like offering subsidies to water users—could potentially be used to achieve water sustainability.   

"Along with my student researchers, we will work closely with collaborators, use data collected on user’s belief and behavior, formulate the game theory models, and discover novel and fair solutions around water conservation incentive schemes,” Mohebbi says. 

Additionally, Mohebbi is working on another NSF-funded project for Integrative Decision Making Framework to Enhance the Resiliency of Interdependent Critical Infrastructures. This targets water, transportation, and cyber infrastructures.