Is it possible to derive a mathematical equation to describe greed? One UCSB professor thinks so.

UCSB Professor of Geographical Sciences Hugo Loaiciga has invented a groundwater-pumping model that will help determine how much water landowners can pump without depleting shared aquifers. He will be presenting this model at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver at the end of the month.

“I was curious about greed and the effect that greed has on resource utilization,” he said.

Aquifers are underground lakes that are a commonly overused source of potable water, he said.

“[Aquifers] provide about 50 percent of all the water that is used worldwide. So, it’s a pretty significant resource,” Loaiciga said. “Unfortunately, in many situations their use is not well regulated so that many aquifers are being used in a non-sustainable fashion, meaning more groundwater is being taken out than is recharged naturally. So the resource is being depleted, both in terms of the quality and the quantity.”

Both John Nash, whose story was told in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and emeritus Biological Sciences Professor Garrett Hardin of UCSB, inspired Loaiciga’s model. Loaiciga has taken what Nash discovered about competition between businesses and Hardin’s theories about the correlation between resource depletion and resource overuse, and applied them to the field of geology.

Loaiciga’s model, designed to be user-friendly, makes calculations via a computer program that can be downloaded for free over the Internet.

“I developed it so [the amount of water that should be allotted to specific aquifer users] could be solved in software that is accessible to a lot of people,” Loaiciga said. “Software that runs into very common platforms … you can actually implement it into [Microsoft] Excel.”

In order to calculate the amount of water that can be extracted without depleting the aquifers, the landowner must enter both the geological and economic characteristics of the aquifer into the program.

Loaiciga invented the model in an attempt to help businesses and residents use water pumped from the aquifer in a more sustainable manner.

“[The model’s usefulness] really goes throughout the entire spectrum, both from private well owners to big water agencies, because just about anyone uses these aquifers,” Loaiciga said.

Loaiciga said there should also be some sort of economic incentive to reducing groundwater pumping.

“My idea is that most people will be more prone to do these sorts of things if there is actually an economic incentive,” Loaiciga said. “They’ve never been able to tie it up to the economic aspects of groundwater use; like the cost of pumping and the revenue that you can develop from it.”

Although the Santa Barbara Country Water Agency is not currently utilizing Loaiciga’s model, in the future they may use it in their work, said Water Resources Planning Manager Robert Almy.

“As these tests are successful, as he advances the frontier of academic research, his work – the models that he makes – can be used as tools to make management decisions by public agencies,” Almy said.