UMass professor receives grant to study Connecticut River

By Katie Landeck

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As climate changes in precipitation and river flow persist, University of Massachusetts Assistant Professor Casey Brown feels that methods of water management may have to change with it.

“There is growing scientific evidence of changes in climate and understanding of how water is managed makes clear that [water management] is currently not well designed for a major change in climate,” said Brown.

In order to test his theory, Brown recently received a five-year, $419,907 the Faculty Early Career Development Program [CAREER] grant from the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency with a mission to support research in all fields of science and engineering, to fund his research. According to their website, about 600 CAREER grants are given out annually.

Presently, water management practices are based on how much precipitation the river has historically seen and the way the river flows. According to Brown, climate change could alter river-flow and precipitation patterns, and he feels the current trends in water management are an impetus for restructuring its processes.

Over the course of the project, Brown hopes to develop “robust” methods of water management that will be able to adapt to a wide range of possible futures.

“We don’t know what the future climate will be so we are going to design methods that do well regardless so they have to be adaptive and flexible so they can respond to future problems,” Brown said.

Brown’s work will primarily address flood risk and how to provide ecological sustainable stream flow. According to Brown, this is a challenging combination as these two issues work against each other.

“The more you control flood risks, the less friendly it is from a habitat standpoint,” Brown said.

Brown will be conducting his research on the 410-mile long Connecticut River basin that services most of Western Mass. and parts of New Hampshire and Connecticut.

“The Connecticut River seemed like a really interesting basin,” said Brown. “It is local and has all the big issues that rivers deal with hydroelectricity, floods, endangered species, recreation and drinking water.”

Brown will build models of the basin in MATLAB, an engineering software that creates a controlled environment in which mathematical tests can be run. He will then see how the river responds to differences in climate as well as different water management practices.

“It is all just equations,” said Brown. “They represent the river and how it works.”

UMass graduate students Scott Steinschneider and Sarah Whateley will write the equations. According to Brown, they will be building the models in MATLAB, applying the different management approaches and writing up the results.

“I am excited to work on the project,” said Steinschneider. “It gives me the chance to learn a lot of techniques and tools and work on something that will hopefully make a difference in the region.”

In order to construct accurate models of the basin and current water management processes, Brown and his students will be talking to the water managers who work on the river and asking them to detail their current practices. However, besides these initial conversations, the team will not actually go to the river.

“We don’t go to the river,” said Brown. “There are no boats in this project. I wish there were though.”

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]