J9.5 “2100? It doesn't keep me up at night!” Incorporating climate information in local water planning

Monday, 24 January 2011: 5:00 PM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Lee M. Tryhorn, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; and A. T. DeGaetano

Changes to the hydrological cycle will bring great challenges to communities, yet there has been a lack of practical solutions and advice on adaptation for dealing with the water sector at the local level. Water infrastructure, use patterns, and institutions have developed in the context of historical climate conditions. Given the expected changes in our climate there is a need to replace standards and practices that were considered permanent with ones that provide for nonstationarity. Humans are particularly vulnerable to hydrological extremes such as flooding and drought, and consequently accurate estimates of local changes in extreme precipitation and low-flows are extremely valuable for informing local policy decisions and estimating potential impacts on areas such as health, infrastructure, ecosystems, and agriculture. A multitude of decisions by federal, state, and local government agencies are made around estimates of hydrological extremes. Decisions need to be made now on infrastructure that will need to last for decades. In addition to new information, water resource managers also require new ways of thinking and examining decision processes. This research intends to support and inform decision-making by addressing both of these areas.

This project aims to assist communities to begin to incorporate climate change into their planning and decision-making. This will involve exploration of the non-climate drivers of decision-making and barriers to integrating climate information in planning, as well as developing downscaled climate data that is useful for local communities. We intend to perform case studies of three communities in the Northeastern United States that have recently made decisions in regard to new infrastructure projects, namely flood mitigation and water supply. These projects relied on the historical record and have not taken climate change into consideration. These case studies will explore the type of information required to make water related decisions and the limitations of that information in the face of climate change. The overarching goal will be to enable communities to make more robust decisions on adaptation in the face of large uncertainties.

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