MSU researchers get $1M EPA grant for Chesapeake Bay management tool

EAST LANSING—Two Michigan State University researchers will develop a multi-objective optimization tool to help agencies make better informed management decisions for the Chesapeake Bay watershed with a $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Co-leads on the project are Kalyanmoy Deb, the Koenig Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Pouyan Nejadhashemi, an MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans six states and Washington D.C. and has a rich historical and recreational importance. It feeds the country’s largest estuary and helps filter and protect 75 percent of the drinking water for the area’s 18 million residents.

Current threats to the watershed include agricultural runoff, air pollution, climate change, and forest loss.

The goal of the six-year project is to develop, implement and validate an optimization framework by combining multiple algorithms, each utilizing a watershed model. Project methodologies will be aided with machine learning enhancements and include decision makers from the Chesapeake Bay Program.

“The use of multi-objective optimization methods will allow Chesapeake Bay watershed users and stakeholders to better understand and utilize different management practices from the points of view of the environment and cost,” said Deb, who has been working in the evolutionary multi-objective optimization area for the past 30 years.

In the first phase, the team will start at the county level and work toward larger rollouts to cover the entire multi-state area of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Once the model is ready for widespread use, the group will continue to monitor and provide oversight.

“Addressing many issues at once will be critical in our efforts to improve the conditions within the watershed,” Nejadhashemi said. “The economic and environmental implications are vast, but this is also important work for optimization tools in general. Building a system at this scale will allow us to have a model for how to do it in other watersheds around the world.”

Deb is a world leader in evolutionary multi-objective optimization and its applications. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and received the 2018 IEEE Evolutionary Computation Pioneer Award.

Nejadhashemi is one of the leading researchers in water resources modeling. The author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, Nejadhashemi has been the principal investigator or co-PI on grants totaling more than $33 million. He is also an elected board member of the International Environmental Modelling and Software Society.

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