UM wins NASA grant to study ag impacts on water resources

Researchers in the geosciences department at the University of Montana announced Wednesday they have received a $750,000 NASA grant to develop and apply remote sensing technologies to study hydrology on the state’s agricultural lands.

Marco Maneta, the study’s principal investigator, said the research will provide insight into the agricultural system’s resiliency to drought. It will also study the impact of agriculture on water scarcity and other issues.

Gov. Steve Bullock declared a drought disaster in 28 Montana counties and five Indian reservations last month.

“This will help us understand how farmers use water and land when confronted with water shortages, policy interventions or shifts in agricultural markets,” said Maneta

Maneta, along with UM geoscientists Brian Chaffin and John Kimball – as well as Bruce Maxwell and Stephanie Ewing of Montana State University – will team up with hydrologists at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to carry out the research.

Maneta said they’ll integrate NASA technologies and advanced computer models to understand and anticipate how farmers allocate resource – such as land, water and fertilizer.

That will help determine how to accommodate new or reduced access to water, and to understand how their decisions impact river flows and water users downstream.

“It will also allow us to simulate the impact of a range of climate and agricultural market scenarios on agricultural water use and revenues in Montana, and to inform water policy that promotes agricultural adaptation and resiliency,” Maneta said. “Understanding imbalances in the water supply and demand systems is a key component of addressing the vulnerability of Montana’s farming system.”

Maneta said the research will also enable Montana develop state-of-the-art technology to tackle the water challenges faced by farmers across the country.