Master's and Professional Projects

Displaying 31-40 of 51

Automated Vehicles for a Sustainable City
Climate Adaptation analyses for industries in Great Lakes: A Business resilience report
Developing a Floodplain Management Overlay Ordinance for the City of Ann Arbor, MI
Green Infrastructure in Detroit: Mapping Synergies and Gaps
How to Make Real Change Stick
Lessons from the 2014 Drought: Water Conservation and California Vineyards

Severe Droughts

California, a key agriculture state in the United States (US), is facing one of the worst droughts in history. The frequency of severe droughts may be increasing due to climate change. Better water efficiency may offset the impact of severe droughts now, and in the future. Improving water efficiency in agriculture, a sector that accounts for 70% water usage, is a priority. Although some farmers have adopted existing agricultural water conservation practices, the majority of farmers have not adopted practices described here. Understanding the barriers to adoption is important to increase adaptation of conservation practices by more farmers, and to improve water efficiency throughout the state.

Helping Small-scale Wine and Grape Farmers

Many large-scale (agri-businesses) farmers in California are motivated to reduce water use by voluntarily adopting water efficiency practices, reducing operational costs. In contrast, many small-scale farming businesses operated by families do not have access to information, capital, and labor to manage severe and persistent droughts. It takes, on average, 40 tons of grapes for a grape grower to break even, making it difficult for small-scale farmers to prosper. To address this challenge, the project team developed water efficiency measures, and assessed methods to motivate small-scale grape growers to implement these measures.

Best Practices for Grape Growers

There are many best management practices for water conservation on vineyards, including soil horizon mapping, soil moisture sensors, salt monitoring, irrigation scheduling, vine water status monitoring, evapotranspiration and weather-based data use, sap flow monitoring, regulated deficit irrigation, and dry farming. Dry farming works with natural conditions, to produce grapes that that can thrive without irrigation. This method involves training the vines to extract as much soil moisture as possible with careful tillage practices and appropriate vine spacing.

Growers using dry farming methods manage soil moisture through a well-planned process that involves careful monitoring and adjustments to promote balanced growth in the vines. This helps ensure that vines have constant access to a low level of water that they must actively access, and results in a deeper root system. In contrast, typical irrigation methods provide the vines with intermittent shots of a lot of water, followed by periods of no irrigation. This method often results in stress of the vines, particularly during periods of drought.

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers, a 30-year old non-profit organization run by farmers and activists, was a key collaborator in this project. The Community Alliance advocates sustainable agriculture in the state of California. They operate six regional offices throughout north-central California. The Alliance has collaborated with a variety of stakeholders to garner support for reducing water usage through conservation methods and best practices. Stakeholders include the US Department of Agriculture, state officials, as well as local and regional water storage and regulation authorities in California, small-scale farmers, and other non-profit organizations.

The Community Alliance conducted workshops for farmers on best practices, and facilitated information sessions and panel discussions to discuss water use and conservation issues. During panel discussions, farmers shared their experience of adopting the dry farming technique. Farmers noted that grapes are adaptable and can tolerate dry conditions. Also, they noted that transitioning to dry farming required 39% less water the first year, and 60% less water the second year. Farmers also shared other practices to reduce water use, like using soil monitors and applying compost in the winter. Many farmers perceived that dry farming, while initially riskier, was actually easier, as the vines transition to a symbiotic relationship with the soil. Farmers indicated that dry farming is possible in 80% of the north coast of California. The appropriate climate for dry farming, combined with the resiliency of dry-farmed vines can withstand heat waves, and droughts. Dry farming may increase the longevity of the vines. Panelists acknowledged the significant financial risks of beginning dry farming during a drought.

Panelists agreed that dry farming creates environmental and economic benefits through conservation, and reduced costs. Farmers suggested developing product labeling for consumers to increase awareness about dry farming water conservation best practices. Also, farmers advocated for changing the US Food and Drug Administration regulations by indicating the specific wine brands produced using conservation methods on product labels. Using less water increases the quality of berries used for wine that can be sold at a premium.

Survey Results

In October and November 2014, the Community Alliance, and the project team conducted a survey among farmers to assess barriers in adapting water conservation practices. The most commonly cited barrier was limited financial resources, followed by the lack of information, bureaucracy, and regulatory barriers. Survey participants indicated a need for online classes, and demonstrations about water efficient technology.


The project team recommended increasing awareness among grape purchasers, wine buyers and consumers about products produced using water conservation best practices. New labeling and a certification program would highlight small-scale farmers adopting this practice and help justify the increased costs associated with dry farming. In addition, consumer education could increase market demand of people seeking wines produced using sustainable water management practices. The Community Alliance could help farmers conduct targeted wine tastings to inform consumers about the benefits of dry farming including increased quality of products and a reduction in water use. A campaign to highlight the benefits of dry farming may result in more farmers using this agricultural best practice, and greatly reduce the amount of water used by small-scale grape growers for irrigation.


Any grape variety can be dry-farmed. A number of grape growers are increasingly sophisticated in choosing more drought-resistant rootstock. The ability of grape growers to adapt to climate change, including more frequent and severe droughts, is critical to sustaining the wine industry. These adaptation methods have the potential to impact the entire agricultural industry.

Project participants

University of Michigan, Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Team members

Kathryn Newhouse, Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE); Angela Wan, SNRE and School of Public Health; Sarah Wightman, SNRE and Law School.


Made possible by The Dow Chemical Company, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at the university who are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable, and meaningful sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales. The program prepares future sustainability leaders to make a positive difference in organizations worldwide.

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Leveraging Mobile Technology to Drive Sustainability in Agriculture in Emerging Markets

The agriculture sector is increasingly impacted by climate change. Variable weather patterns, soil erosion, and industrial agricultural practices have caused considerable damage to the farming community, particularly in developing countries. However mobile and other technological developments provide an opportunity to improve agricultural practices in developing countries and facilitate better adaptation to climate change.

RecoveryPark: Sustaining Detroit
Valuing Distributed Solar Generation in Michigan
“Use-Phase” Sustainability for Energy Development Projects


Access to electricity is critical for emerging countries to improve opportunities to work, learn, and thrive economically. In sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is acute, with nearly 620 million people that do not have access to electricity. Those that do have access in both the rural and urban areas of this region rely on diesel fuel generators. In addition, the diesel generators used in these regions tend to be inefficient and have little to no emissions control equipment. Therefore, diesel-powered generators produce significant pollution, contributing to both local health problems and global climate change.

Diesel vs. Solar Systems

To reduce the use of diesel fuel generators, efforts are underway to establish sustainable and renewable energy sources.The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2040, seventy percent of the rural electricity can be delivered by renewable energy sources.

Although sustainable energy systems are being installed in the region, there is a severe lack of technical expertise regarding the maintenance and repair of energy systems, resulting in inefficiencies and shortened system lifecycles. Without ensuring the productivity of new sustainable energy systems, the region will likely continue to rely on diesel fuel generators.

There are three viable options for pumping water in this region: 1) manual, 2) diesel generation, and 3) solar panels. To address the challenge of maintaining sustainable energy systems, the project team installed solar powered water pumps on the plantation of the Liberian Agricultural Company, a rubber plantation company in Liberia that is responsible for providing water to its 4,500 employees. The project team studied the use of the new solar system, and compared the environmental, social, and economic impact of installing diesel pumps, versus solar energy pumps.

Economic Considerations

Initial installation costs for a diesel pump are less than a solar pump, but diesel is more costly in the long run. Additionally, diesel prices are volatile in Liberia, making it difficult to effectively estimate and budget for costs. While the solar powered system is a larger upfront investment, the Liberian Agricultural Company understood it was ultimately a less expensive system, after comparing the life cycle costs of diesel and solar systems.

Another consideration is maintenance and operation costs of solar panels. The project team and the Liberian Agricultural Company developed three options for payment methods for electric use by the community, including: 1) Pay as you go - charging customers for electricity used, 2) Community ownership of electric pumps, and 3) Leasing electric pumps – customers pay for water used monthly, and in addition, pay a small amount towards purchasing the solar system.

Community Involvement

Women in the Liberian Agricultural Company community spend a substantial amount of time collecting water for basic needs, such as drinking, cooking and cleaning. Ready access to water within homes would benefit women and families. However, improved access to water may lead to water intensive activities, increasing water use for non-essential purposes.

Community buy-in is essential to understand the need for continuing water conservation best practices, while increasing water access. It was important to fully understand local needs, communicate expectations for system performance, and engage the community, including both men and women, in ongoing operation of the solar system. Also, ensuring workers use the water pumps properly is critical.

To engage the community, the project team hosted a community meeting for workers, and the Liberian Agricultural Company management. The team emphasized that the solar system is designed to meet only basic needs, and water conservation practices should continue. A local high school graduate was trained to monitor the system performance. Communication protocols were established to relay performance information collected during monitoring to the project sponsors in the United States. This information was assessed by the project team and used to make necessary adjustments to the solar system.


Long-term maintenance of renewable energy systems is a critical component of increasing electrical use in sub-Saharan Africa. Successful incorporation of social, economic and environmental concerns will increase the viability of renewable systems, as well as enhance community ownership and autonomy. While it is impossible to create a standard manual for successful project implementation, similar themes remain important. Each successful project can act as a case study to provide guidelines for future projects. The project team recommends that each project be tailored to the specific characteristics of community dynamics, geographic location, resource availability, ownership structures, and the political environment.

Project participants

University of Michigan, Sustainability Without Borders, and the Liberian Agricultural Company

Team members

Jeff Jay, Law School; Will Kletter, Ross School of Business; Maite Madrazo, graduate of the Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE); Josh Novacheck, graduate of the College of Engineering and SNRE; and Rory Pulvino, Law School.


Made possible by The Dow Chemical Company, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at the university who are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable, and meaningful sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales. The program prepares future sustainability leaders to make a positive difference in organizations worldwide.

Read More