Abstracts to Review
on Washington DC
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Some Initial Thoughts from Pam Stephens and William Hooke
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Water is a finite resource. Most Americans are aware of the many contentious issues surrounding limited water resources in the West and Southwestern states. That water could also be limited in the East is a new concept for many, but the recent drought in the Southeastern US has raised awareness. There are a variety of reasons for water shortages in the East, some quite different from the West. How are drought events in the East different? Are water resource management strategies different? Is water supply a critical issue for the East now or will it be in the future? Have we have reached a threshold where higher frequency of drought events can be expected?
The climate will be different. Climate projections suggest that precipitation patterns may be altered significantly in coming decades in the East. A Change in the ratio of snow to rain events is possible and new temperature patterns may affect evaporation rates. How large do changes in the average conditions and/or climate variability need to be before water resource management practices need to be altered? How severe a drought can we “weather”? Can we estimate the impacts on water quality due to the water quantity variations? Are there mitigation options that should be pursued? What kind of climate information do planners need to develop and implement appropriate strategies?
Factors beyond weather and climate are important. Shifting demographics, land use changes, and pressures for continual economic growth, among others, will affect the demand for water locally and regionally. How do these factors interact with climate variability and change? How are they best taken into account? To what extent can we estimate potential changes in water availability in the East? What are the relative (physical vs. demand) factors that will influence water availability in the coming decades? What is the role of “gray water” and is it a viable option for the East? Will new kinds of infrastructure (e.g., reservoirs, etc) be needed and when? What is the appropriate planning horizon?
Forecasters face a new challenge. With the anticipated changes in climate, the “stationarity” assumption that underlies most hydrologic forecasting will no longer be valid. What does this mean for the future of hydrologic forecasting, for both short-term and long-term forecasts? What are the implications for water resource management and urban and regional planning? Are there alternative approaches that can be employed for forecasting?
Uncertainty should not preclude action. Climate projections carry considerable uncertainty regarding the amount and nature of climate patterns at the local and regional scales. Advances in downscaling techniques may help to address this issue, but progress is likely to be slow. Nonetheless, decision-makers will need to take action. Are there “no regret” paths that water managers and regional planners can follow? What kind of climate information is needed to help inform decisions? Can we bound the problem so that users appreciate the limitations inherent in forecasts but are still able to make sensible plans with what can be provided?
The public needs to understand. The adequacy of water availability is a function of time and space. There are constraints on water availability that are not fully appreciated by the public or decision-makers, which are often ignored in the pursuit of economic development. With changes in land use patterns, including greater area covered by impervious surfaces, runoff characteristics are altered and flooding could become more prevalent and/or severe. What does the general public need to understand about water resource issues, land use factors and climate change? What about policymakers and planners? What are the most effective ways to educate and raise awareness of these groups? What do we need to know about communicating the risks?
Responses must be multi-institutional. Where does responsibility lie, and the most promise reside, for addressing these issues – what is the locus of action? A number of states and localities are taking aggressive steps to deal with climate change issues, including water resources. What spurred this action and what are the factors responsible for the sustained efforts? What do the various communities have in common? What is the role for state, regional and federal governments and organizations? What is the role of the private sector?
Jack Frost, Federal Government: USDA, WRC, CE, PC - Retired
The public will no longer let public utilities build oversized, expensive and environmentally damaging systems to supply their water, energy and transportation needs. How can water resource managers in the Eastern United States provide information in enough detail on climate, weather, supply and demand to convince each community that their current systems are the most cost effective, water efficient and least environmentally damaging possible while being within acceptable levels of risk and that the recommendations for improving these systems will meet these same criteria? In other words, we have to wring every last drop of water out of each water supply (and flood control) system before we can convince the public to spend money on improvements. By the way, how much money is the public willing to pay and how good are our systems? Are most towns going to have to find these answers themselves and solve their water problems on their own? How do we determine if current institutional arrangements and planning procedures are sufficient? Do we need to legislate regional water resource management organizations so that the risk of demand and supply can be spread out over large enough areas of supply?
Kristine Harper, University of Utah
Solving problems that stem from limited resources (as in the case of water)will require the participation of many disciplines -- not just the cooperation or collaboration of scientists. Humanists and social scientists -- who deal with people -- also have methods and insights that bear on these problems and ways to address them. How will they be brought to the table as full participants?
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