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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  2. Abstract Environmental merits are a common motivation for many urban agriculture (UA) projects. One powerful way of quantifying environmental impacts is with life cycle assessment (LCA): a method that estimates the environmental impacts of producing, using, and disposing of a good. LCAs of UA have proliferated in recent years, evaluating a diverse range of UA systems and generating mixed conclusions about their environmental performance. To clarify the varied literature, we performed a systematic review of LCAs of UA to answer the following questions: What is the scope of available LCAs of UA (geographic, crop choice, system type)? What is the environmental performance and resource intensity of diverse forms of UA? How have these LCAs been done, and does the quality and consistency allow the evidence to support decision making? We searched for original, peer-reviewed LCAs of agricultural production at UA systems, and selected and evaluated 47 papers fitting our analysis criteria, covering 88 different farms and 259 production systems. Focusing on yield, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and cumulative energy demand, using functional units based on mass of crops grown and land occupied, we found a wide range of results. We summarized baseline ranges, identified trends across UA profiles, and highlighted the most impactful parts of different systems. There were examples of all types of systems—across physical set up, crop type, and socio-economic orientation—achieving low and high impacts and yields, and performing better or worse than conventional agriculture. However, issues with the quality and consistency of the LCAs, the use of conventional agriculture data in UA settings, and the high variability in their results prevented us from drawing definitive conclusions about the environmental impacts and resource use of UA. We provided guidelines for improving LCAs of UA, and make a strong case that more research on this topic is necessary to improve our understanding of the environmental impacts and benefits of UA. 
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  3. Abstract

    System-level integration and optimization of food-energy-water systems (FEWS) require coordination of multiple agencies and decision-makers and incorporating their interdependence. In general, such coordination might be hard to achieve. As a result, the literature on FEWS management either optimizes the operations for one sector (or one decision-maker), or models interdependence among the sectors without optimizing their operations. In this article, we develop a novel multi-agent management optimization approach that is able to incorporate stochasticity and uncertainty in the system’s dynamics and interdependence of the water and energy resources for food production. The proposed method is the first attempt to utilize fundamentals of decision and game theories to optimize operations of multi-agent FEWS. We specifically focus on differentiating between (1) cooperative decision optimization of the operations, where all decision-makers cooperate to achieve the best outcome for the whole system, the social optimum, and (2) non-cooperative decision-making of the agents, the Nash equilibrium. Illustrating with a real-world case study of FEWS in Ventura County, California, we show the difference between the cooperative and non-cooperative decision making in terms of long-term expected cost of managing the system. We further show how the extra costs associated with utilizing the renewable sources of water and energy could be incentivised, so that the non-cooperative solution (the Nash equilibrium) would naturally converge to the best outcome for the whole system (the social optimum).

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  4. Abstract

    Under the risk of drought, unreliable water supplies, and growing water demand, there is a growing need worldwide to explore alternative water sources to meet the demand for irrigation in agriculture and other outdoor activities. This paper estimates stocks, production capacities, economic costs, energy implications, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with recycled water, desalinated brackish and seawater, and stormwater in California, the largest US state and the most significant fresh and processed food producer. The combined recycled water and stormwater supply could increase the share of alternative water use in urban land irrigation (parks and golf courses) from the current rate of 4.6% to 48% and in agriculture from 0.82% to 5.4% while increasing annual water costs by $900 million (1.8% of California’s annual agricultural revenue) and energy use by 710 GWh (0.28% of California’s annual electricity consumption). The annual supply of alternative water greatly exceeds the amount of water currently used in the food processing industry. In case studies of high-value agricultural produce, conventional water use was found to contribute approximately 17%, 12%, 4.1%, and 1.7% to the total GHG emissions of avocados, lemons, celery, and strawberries, respectively. However, materials (mostly packaging) contribute 46%, 26%, 47%, and 66%, and diesel use on farms 18%, 28%, and 14% for lemons, celery, and strawberries, respectively (data for avocados were not available). Switching to recycled water or stormwater would increase the total GHG emissions of one serving size of packaged strawberries, celery, lemons, and avocados by 3.0%, 7.8%, 11%, and 27%, respectively, desalinated brackish water by 23%, 58%, 150%, and 210%, and desalinated seawater by 35%, 88%, 230%, and 320%. Though switching to alternative water will increase costs, energy demand, and GHG emissions, they could be offset by turning to less environmentally damaging materials in agricultural production and sales (especially packaging).

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