UGA Study Focuses on Long-term Sustainability of Upper Floridan Aquifer

A team of four universities, including researchers from the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, are teaming up to look at the environmental and economic sustainability of agriculture and forestry in northern Florida and southern Georgia that rely on the Upper Floridan Aquifer water supply.

The Upper Floridan Aquifer supports agricultural activities worth more than $7.5 billion and provides drinking water to 10 million people, said Puneet Dwivedi, assistant professor at the Warnell School. This project, Dwivedi said, will focus on developing new best management practices and increasing adoption of existing best management practices among farmers, which will lead to reduced water use and improved water quality.

Led by the University of Florida Water Institute, UGA researchers will partner with faculty from Auburn and Albany State universities on the five-year, $5 million project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. UGA will receive $1.2 million of the total grant funding.

Dwivedi is leading the UGA team, which also includes Professor George Vellidis, Assistant Professor Wes Porter, Public Service Associate Amanda Smith and Assistant Research Scientist Carrie Furman, all of CAES.

Researchers will develop farming practices that reduce water use and fertilizer loss while resulting in profitable crop yields. Researchers from the University of Florida and Auburn University will then create computer models that can predict the impacts of various land and water uses on overall water quality and quantity over time.

At UGA, Dwivedi will develop a model for understanding how the adoption of best management practices will change the current land use in the study area and the consequences of such changes on water quality and quantity. Vellidis will develop best management practices to optimize the use of water and fertilizers for the region’s major crops. Porter will work with farmers to promote advanced irrigation scheduling methods for improving water use efficiency of crops, including development of an irrigation app. Smith will create and revise new and existing farm-level budgets to address how changes to best management practices affect costs at the farm level within the region. Finally, Furman will research and document learning and communication between farmers and project members through a participatory modeling process.

The team also plans to work with farmers with what they’ve found to be the best irrigation scheduling methods to improve crop water use efficiency.

“As increasing populations put more pressure on water resources, it is going to be essential that the agricultural industry uses water efficiently,” said Guy Hancock (BSA – Agricultural and Applied Economics, ’17), Smith’s graduate research assistant and a native of southern Georgia’s Irwinville. “I am especially happy to have the opportunity to be involved in a project that could directly affect agriculture in my home area.”

By Sandi Martin with contributions from Amanda Smith