By  Charlie Feigenoff

When Vietnamese look into the waters of the country's Red River, they get a reflection of their own interests. The river is a vital source of hydroelectric power for Vietnam's fast-growing economy. Farmers depend on its silt-laden waters to irrigate and fertilize the rice paddies that dominate its vast delta. At the same time, the inhabitants of low-lying cities such as Hanoi fear the flooding brought by the annual monsoon rains. In 2018, flooding caused government officials to order the evacuation of more than 6,000 people from a Hanoi suburb. “Managing these sometimes divergent perspectives requires tradeoffs,” said Julianne Quinn, an assistant professor and one of the newest additions to the faculty in UVA's Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. She specializes in improving optimization and simulation methods used to design and manage water resources systems. As a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow, she was part of a team of researchers from Cornell University and Politecnico di Milano developing tools to help Vietnamese planners better weigh the objectives of Red River stakeholders. To manage the Red River, the Vietnamese government constructed a network of reservoirs upstream from Hanoi. They are used to regulate the flow of water reaching Hanoi, store water for irrigation during the dry season and provide hydroelectric power. The challenge is that there is no single optimal water level for all three uses. While Quinn's research team focused on Vietnam, governments — and engineers — grapple with similar balancing acts in communities all over the world, especially as land development and the effects of climate change stress infrastructure systems and resources.