Innovative tool allows continental-scale water, energy, and land system modeling

October 12, 2018

A new large-scale hydroeconomic model, developed by the Water Program at IIASA, will allow researchers to study water systems across whole continents, looking at sustainability of supply and the impacts of water management on the energy and agricultural sectors.

Hydroeconomic models are increasingly becoming an important tool for water resources planning in river basins. Taher Kahil, the IIASA researcher who led the development of the Extended Continental-scale Hydroeconomic Optimization (ECHO) model, explains that hydroeconomic modeling is rarely used over scales larger than a basin, and especially not at continental-scale. ECHO is one of the first large-scale models that integrates hydrological, environmental, economic, and institutional aspects.

As the rising global population and climate change further increase pressure on water resource systems, as well as energy and land systems, the so-called water-energy-land nexus, policymakers will need to be better informed when it comes to adapting management practices to ensure sustainability.

"ECHO can be used to simulate a variety of water management interventions including efficiency improvements, resource extractions, reservoir storage, interbasin transfers, and non-conventional water resources, among many others. The model should provide useful information to policymakers on the optimal combination of management interventions to address water scarcity challenges as well as the trade-offs and synergies among these various interventions," says Kahil.

An important advantage of ECHO, according to the researchers, is that it can consider local hydrological and technological constraints, along with regional and global policies, at multiple spatial scales, overcoming the limits of other models which have attempted this at smaller spatial scales.

"This is increasingly necessary given that local conditions constrain the water supply system, while some policy interventions such as international trade and transboundary agreements can only be assessed at larger spatial scales," says Kahil. "Moreover, solutions identified at the large scale need to be validated in the regional context given that management, policy, and investment decisions are made at regional and sub-national levels."

The model itself is a bottom-up optimization model with various possible outputs. Intermediate models generate input data, including linkages between different water systems, water availability and future climate change and its impacts. Water use management options such as groundwater pumping, desalination, reservoir use, and wastewater recycling are also included, alongside the electricity consumption of each option and the associated costs and performance. Electricity generation technologies using water are also considered.

The researchers applied the model to Africa as a case study as part of a wider study on water, energy and food (with Global Environment Facility funding). The continent was selected due to its rapidly growing water demands and lack of infrastructure, allowing the capacity of the ECHO model and the benefits of the integrated hydroeconomic modeling framework to be shown. Kahil and the team examined a number of different scenarios towards 2050. The results they obtained are in line with previous findings on the cost of water management and adaptation to global changes in Africa. However, the model additionally provides an assessment of necessary investments in water management and the economic implications of various socioeconomic and climate change adaptations.

The next step in the development of ECHO will be to apply the modeling framework to all basins and groundwater aquifers around the world and use it to study challenging global water-related issues, including groundwater depletion. The model will also consider water quality and associated adaptive options to address water scarcity worldwide.

ECHO will also be used in the ongoing Food-water-energy for Urban Sustainable Environment (FUSE) project, a joint endeavor of IIASA, Stanford University, US, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, and the Austrian Foundation for Development Research. The project will study policy and governance to address competition for scarce resources in stressed urban food-water-energy systems, particularly in Amman, Jordan and Pune, India. Here, the model will be applied to megacities to find sustainable solutions for urban inhabitants.

"ECHO is a modeling tool that can be used to respond to challenging questions important to human society, such as the implications of contrasting socioeconomic and climatic scenarios on the sustainability of water supply, and the impacts of water management on the energy and food sectors and vice versa. The insights could guide the design of better management policies and a more efficient use of scarce resources," says Yoshihide Wada, Water Program deputy director and one of the coauthors of the study.

Kahil T, Parkinson S, Satoh Y, Greve P, Burek P, Veldkamp TIE, Burtscher R, Byers E et al. (2018) A continental-scale hydro-economic model for integrating water-energy-land nexus solutions. Water Resources Research DOI: 10.1029/2017WR022478 []

More information


Taher Kahil
Research Scholar
Tel: +43 2236 807 325

Helen Tunnicliffe
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 316
Mob: +43 676 83 807 316

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to