The Northern Great Lake states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan confront extensive conversion from forests to irrigated vegetable production in coarse, unconfined aquifers, where groundwater is strongly connected to surface water. Though growers ensure national food security by managing intensive vegetable production to minimize drought and flood risks, there are inherent ecological tradeoffs. The present degradation of trout streams, lakes, and wetlands in the Wisconsin Central Sands region epitomizes the challenges presented by heavy groundwater withdrawals. There is a pressing need for joint stewardship of groundwater and surface water in the Northern Great Lake states. However, community, economic, and scientific roadblocks currently impede progress to varying degrees at the farm, watershed, and regional scales.
My research targets roadblocks to conservation at the farm, watershed, and regional scales by integrating hydrological, physiological, and agronomic observations into new modeling tools that couple agricultural and forest management decisions to provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem outcomes. In collaboration with regulatory, freshwater, and agricultural stakeholders, I will bridge knowledge gaps to conservation by quantifying (1) agricultural management strategies to reduce groundwater consumption and nitrate leaching, (2) the separate and synergistic effects of pumping, crop water use, and phreatophytic forests on surface water flow and quality, and (3) irrigated land use conversion impacts to water quantity and quality in a changing climate. Proposed experiments are designed to identify feasible interventions that will result in specific, measurable improvements to degraded groundwater and surface waters. Water stewardship practices implemented by growers and land managers will be monitored and recognized. Results will inform socially feasible, adaptive management of freshwaters, forests, and agroecosystems existing in coarse aquifers throughout the Northern Great Lake States.