Achieving water security in the context of the food-energy-water nexus

Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences

4 pm on Thursday, November 12, 2020
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Lovell Endowed Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering
Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory,
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Water problems have become more and more alarming as unexpected consequences of development have undermined eco-hydrological systems around the world. In response, national and international communities have proposed and promoted innovative concepts and procedures, including efforts focused on integrated water resources management (IWRM), water security, and the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus in recent years. All these efforts are key tenants of sustainable development but moving forward from exhortation to action has been a common critical challenge for all. Treating water as a privileged resource more or less sets water in a reactive role, in which the competition for water among socioeconomic sectors (e.g., energy, food, etc.) often ends with the depletion of water quantity or degradation of water quality. Indeed, efforts for food security started in the Green Revolution have contributed to numerous water problems around the world, and the present pursuit of energy security can cause new water problems (e.g., biofuel production may consume too much water; hydraulic fracturing for gas extraction needs considerable amounts of water and can pollute water). I argue that in the context of the FEW nexus, the role of water can be shifted from a reactive sector to an “active entity” along with food and energy sectors. The FEW nexus paradigm can provide water communities specific channels to move forward convergent research and practice to achieve water security, where IWRM has fallen short. As an example, the FEW systems in the US Midwest Corn Belt will be discussed.


Dr. Ximing Cai is the Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Cai got his B.S. degree in Hydraulic Engineering and M.S. degree in Hydrological and Water Resources from Tsinghua university in 1990 and 1994 and received his Ph. D degree at the University of Texas at Austin in 1999. His current research areas include coupled human-natural system analysis with an emphasis on human interferences in hydrological processes, water-energy-food system modeling, especially in dry areas, and sustainable water resources management, particularly in developing countries. He has authored or co-authored more than 154 peer-reviewed journal papers, three books, and several monographs. During 2012-2017, he served as Editor for Water Resources Research, the flagship journal of water resources, published by the American Geophysical Union; currently, he serves on the editorial board of several other major water journals. According to his excellent accomplishments, he has received the National Science Foundation CAREER award and best paper awards from Water Resources Research, Water International, and the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management. He has worked as a consultant to the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international agencies. He has been associate director of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), a campus-wide institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.