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Levan Elbakidze

Levan Elbakidze and his wife and daughter.


My research is natural resource related so water economics, energy economics mostly. I’ve done other topics as well from terrorism to pests to willingness to pay for ice cream. More recently, I’m doing research on mostly water and energy.

I teach two graduate courses for Ph.D. and master’s students building systems models for optimization problems. For example, land use optimization or what type of land should be allocated to this or that and what gives the best benefit to society. It’s mathematical. 

The project that we are working on now is how a fertilizer used throughout the U.S., and particularly in the Mississippi River Basin, affects water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf suffers from periodic hypoxia occurrence (not enough oxygen in the water). That is caused by too many nutrients delivered to the Gulf from various activities in the Mississippi River Basin. A big part of this problem is agricultural production, where fertilizer is used quite a bit. We model the effects of energy and fertilizer prices on fertilizer use and nitrogen runoff to the Gulf and policies that target reduction of runoff to the Gulf. That’s difficult to design because there are lots of farmers and it's difficult to get cooperation. Even if one were to succeed in designing such a regulation, nitrogen intensive crop production moves from the Mississippi River Basin to other areas like Lake Eerie or other places. What we do by focusing on just one area means we basically shift contamination to other places.

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

I was an associate professor at the University of Idaho. I was doing water related work and a bit more focused on crop production and pesticide use over there. There’s not that much pesticide use here in West Virginia as there is over there.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

I enjoy my colleagues and division; that’s probably my favorite thing here. When my papers get accepted for publication, that’s enjoyable. Working with and teaching students is highly rewarding. This especially includes observing occasional “light bulb” moments that students experience when they start to understand how economic forces affect societal outcomes and why economic principles are important for policy.  


If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?

Probably put some away for my kid’s education and put some away for retirement and put some into the education system in general. Maybe I would start a school for kids, like K-12, and pay teachers better. It’s difficult to start a school like that because of all kinds of red tape.

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

That I’m still healthy and almost everybody I know is okay, at least not affected by COVID. It didn’t really affect immediate family matters. I had a chance to spend a lot of time with immediate family members. That's been a blessing. I learned how to use Zoom. I didn’t have to drive in Morgantown; that was a big plus. I don’t want the pandemic anymore. I'm really tired of it, but that was the silver lining: I didn’t have to drive in Morgantown.



Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (with my daughter) 

What’s your favorite meal? A good meal: anything authentic, homemade or not mass produced; BBQ 

What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? Hedwig’s Theme; anything by Brahms 

What’s one thing you can’t live without? My wife and daughter, Gulnara and Eleanor