Water Managers to Climate Researchers: This Is What We Need
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, together with the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have collaborated on a series of reports to address how to incorporate climate change science into water planning. A 2009 report, Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective was the first document to come out of this collaboration. From that, four related documents are planned to address short-term (less than five years) and long-term information needs for water planners (users) and associated science strategies.
Recently, the 160-page report addressing long-term user needs was published, focusing on eight areas where local, state, and federal water management agencies need more data and information. It is aimed at the research and technology community, who are in the best position to begin to address the data and information gaps. These include federal agencies that perform and fund climate research, state and local science centers, academic institutions, and consultants who support climate research.
The eight information gaps identified in the report are:
1. Figuring out what the relevant literature and previous research is for a given region or situation and understanding the significance of it
2. Obtaining the appropriate climate projections and paleoclimate proxies, with their associated uncertainties, at appropriate scales for a given water resources planning situation
3. Deciding which climate projections, of all those available, to use in a given situation, and understanding which particular aspects of the projections are relevant to water supply planning
4. Evaluating how natural systems—watershed hydrology, ecosystems, water quality, sea level rise, etc.—will respond under the chosen climate projections, in order to set assumptions about future water demands, supplies, and operating constraints
5. Assessing how social, economic, and institutional responses to climate change could influence planning assumptions about water demands and operating constraints (such as preference for a certain source of water or allocations for specific uses such as agriculture, environment, or recreation)
6. Identifying the system—as opposed to operational—risks associated with the chosen planning assumptions, and identifying alternative long-term management strategies. This could include, for example, looking at human safety and economic and environmental damages under assumptions about future extreme flood events.
7. Assessing and characterizing all the uncertainties accumulated in all the previous steps
8. Distilling and communicating the results and uncertainties not just to water managers, but to those above them—such as city councils or state legislatures—who must understand the significance of the potential climate change impacts in order to act.