2B.4 Science Informing Policy? Understanding Drivers and Constraints to Improved Water Management in a Changing Climate

Monday, 18 July 2011: 2:15 PM
Swannanoa (Asheville Renaissance)
Christine J. Kirchhoff, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and L. Dilling

Water managers have long experienced the challenges of managing water resources in a variable climate. However, climate change has the potential to reshape the experiential landscape by, for example, increasing the intensity and duration of droughts and the frequency of extreme events. Climate change also poses further challenges as rising sea levels may threaten coastal aquifers and surface water intakes.

The IPCC (2007) defines adaptation to climate risks as “adjustments to reduce vulnerability or enhance resilience in response to observed or expected changes in climate” (p. 720). For the purposes of this research adaptation includes management, planning, policy or other actions taken by local, regional, or state level water managers in response to current climatic variability, medium- to long-term climatic trends, or climate change.

Our research uses interviews and documentary analysis in five U.S. states to understand the drivers and constraints to improved water resource planning and decision-making that state water managers face as they respond to observed and anticipated changes in the hydrologic cycle. We hypothesize that adaptation to current and anticipated climate-related risks is facilitated by the existence of an iterative, relevant supply of scientific information and advice. Furthermore, we hypothesize that existing policies or regulatory structures may constrain adaptation actions in practice despite knowledge of climate-related risks. Preliminary results suggest climate variability—namely drought—coupled with population growth drives improvements in water resources planning at the state level to a far greater degree than concern over climate change. Moreover, results suggest uncertainty in the direction and magnitude of climate change induced changes in precipitation stifle advancements in addressing climate change impacts.

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