Science-Based Management System Could Lessen Water Disputes

November 14, 1996

In many parts of the world, water is a precious and often fought-over resource.

To help lessen such conflicts, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher has developed a computer-based system he hopes will establish a scientific basis for equitable and sustainable water resources management.

"Today and in the years to come, water is and will continue to be a serious reason for conflict ... especially when different countries share a limited resource," said Dr. Aris Georgakakos, a Georgia Tech professor specializing in water resources.

"An agreed upon system to assess what the river can do can be a solid basis for communication and an opportunity to peacefully resolve differences," adds Georgakakos, who also is head of Georgia Tech's Environmental Hydraulics and Water Resources Group and associate chair for research in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Currently, Georgakakos is overseeing the development of a new water resources management program for the Nile River, called an integrated decision support system.

This more than $10 million project is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, through a contract with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It is a collaborative effort between Georgia Tech and the U.S. National Weather Service, and is being carried out for the Egyptian government.

Although not complete, the Nile River project already is being used as a prototype for other river basins, including China's Yangtze River, Greece's Achelloos and Brazil's Iguacu.

In the United States, Georgia Tech researchers also have developed decision support systems for the Upper Des Moines River in the Midwest and parts of the Southeastern reservoir system, which includes the Savannah, Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa Rivers.

In the past, Georgakakos said, water policies often were formed during crises and favored supply-side solutions. Increasingly, policy makers and water resources managers are faced with the need to manage existing sources better, to encourage more efficient use and mitigate environmental damage.

"We begin to understand that whatever we do has consequences," Georgakakos said. "So in planning the development and operation of water resources projects, we must not only consider traditional water uses like hydropower, flood control, water supply, navigation and recreation, but also look at the long-term sustainability of the resource."

Proper management of water resources depends on many complex factors, such as weather dynamics, watershed responses, environmental impacts and human demand.

The integrated decision support system developed at Georgia Tech attempts to quantify these factors, to produce accurate forecasting and efficient day-to-day management. It is built on hydrometeorological data such as rainfall observations, river flow and stage hydrographs, soil moisture distribution and changes, and temperature and evapotranspiration.

Such data, gathered from satellites, radars and on-site sensors, are valuable in understanding how water resources systems work and are much more accessible to management authorities today than in the past, Georgakakos said.

Once set up, a decision support system can simulate the response of rivers and reservoirs to different climatic inputs, water and power demands, and decision policies. They are not intended to replace management authorities but rather to quantify the tradeoffs among different water uses.

For the Nile River, there are several major issues that demand basinwide agreement on use and management. Flowing 4,000 miles from the Equatorial Lakes to the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile affects the lives of roughly 250 million people in 10 countries.

Changes proposed in recent years include hydroelectric development proposed in Ethiopia, which commands the source region of the Blue Nile; regulation and future development of the Equatorial Lakes (Victoria, Kyoga and Albert); implementation of several conservation projects proposed for the White Nile, such as the Jonglei Canal in Southern Sudan; and the growing water needs of all nations (especially Egypt and Sudan) that depend on the Nile.

In the past, countries usually established bilateral agreements (e.g., Egypt and Sudan, Egypt and Uganda). Georgakakos's research, however, shows that focusing separately on development and conservation projects on the White or the Blue Nile will most likely benefit some areas but harm others. A more cooperative approach would benefit the region as a whole.

Part of the system developed for the Nile is already in place at the Nile Forecast and Control Center at the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources in Egypt. Several Egyptian engineers and senior officials have been trained to operate and maintain it. Egyptian engineers also have spent time at Georgia Tech and the National Weather Service, helping design the river forecasting and decision models.

Last October, the decision system was discussed by senior officials from seven Nilotic countries -- Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire -- when they met in Rome under the auspices of the FAO. Other countries in the Nile Basin include Burundi, Eritrea and Rwanda.

Several officials noted that their people need more technical expertise in water resources management, an area where Georgia Tech can help. The school's educational program offers training, technology transfer and classes for students and professionals, as well as a uniquely integrated team approach.

More importantly, Georgakakos hopes his decision support system model will lead the way in changing ineffective management practices of the past.

In developing such systems, Georgia Tech works in partnership with the Hydrologic Research Center in San Diego and the Office of Hydrology of the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C. Collaborations with other universities and research laboratories are being pursued.

"Based on the research that Georgia Tech and other research organizations have done over the last 10 to 15 years, we have made great strides in many aspects of water management," Georgakakos said. "And, what is more, we have learned how to package it all into a nice system like the one we developed for the Nile."
430 Tenth St. N.W., Suite N-112
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John Toon (404-894-6986);
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Dr. Aris Georgakakos (404-894-2240);

WRITER: Amanda Crowell

Georgia Institute of Technology

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