Josué Medellín-Azuara and Sarah Kurtz Join the SWEEP Advisory Board
The California Department of Food and Agriculture—or CDFA—recently added two UC Merced faculty to the advisory group for the State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP). SWEEP added an ad hoc advisory group in response to stakeholders’ requests. The group is responsible for creating recommendations to help farmers and water managers improve efficiency and improve participation across the state.
Josué Medellín-Azuara and Sarah Kurtz, both CITRIS-affiliated researchers and UC Merced School of Engineering faculty, will contribute their water and energy expertise to the agriculture-focused advisory board.
While the main goal is water efficiency, SWEEP funds and supports projects that reduce costs for farmers and ranchers while achieving environmental benefits, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions or energy for water pumping.
This is one of the many reasons why Josué Medellín-Azuara, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, joined SWEEP in the fall of 2020. “The program considers water balance approach without encouraging acreage expansions,” said Medellín-Azuara. “Yet, what I like the most about the SWEEP program is that irrigation efficiency encompasses not just water but also cleaner energy.”
Medellín-Azuara’s research on the economic impacts of recent California droughts has served CDFA in the past.
The lead of the Water Systems Management Lab at UC Merced, Medellín-Azuara said, “I always thought SWEEP was an ambitious and worthwhile endeavor. Water efficiency in agriculture is complex. Sometimes reductions in applied water might have unintended consequences for aquifer recharge. Or water savings might lead to more areas being irrigated.
“Combining improvements in irrigation efficiency and reductions in GHG emissions is a step forward. What really motivated me to join was the opportunity to include equity elements into the program which provide smaller farm operations and farmers in underserved communities, with a fair amount of technical assistance for filling out applications.”
Professor of Materials Sciences Sarah Kurtz’s expertise lies more in renewable energy than water, but she is equally devoted to equity and multiple uses for agricultural lands. In 2019, when she joined the faculty of UC Merced, Kurtz hosted with CITRIS a biogas and agriculture workshop. And since many of SWEEP’s programs include solar energy, Kurtz’s leadership in the field and vision for equitable access to economic energy will help guide CDFA programming.
“SWEEP is an excellent program that funds farmers to use irrigation that saves water and reduces greenhouse gases. It’s a real privilege for me to participate on the ad hoc sub-advisory group,” said Kurtz.
Medellín-Azuara added that being part of SWEEP is important for our community. “Given UC Merced’s growing ties with our surrounding agricultural community, I felt SWEEP, in addition to my lab’s research, was a good place for me to participate with CDFA.”
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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