6.1 Multiple RISA Roles in Climate Adaptation for Water Resource Management: Two Case Studies

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 3:30 PM
Room 19A (Austin Convention Center)
Eric S. Gordon, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO; and T. Bardsley

By its very nature, NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) programs across the country serve varied and evolving roles as boundary organizations in their respective regions. As RISAs have developed, many of them have become involved in a number of projects aimed at assisting water resource stakeholders in understanding vulnerabilities to climate variability and change and facilitating adaptation planning. Through these efforts, individual RISAs have discovered the need to use a variety of methodological approaches and boundary roles in order to provide useful contributions to a given effort.

Recently, researchers from the Western Water Assessment (WWA) RISA had the opportunity to participate in two local-level projects aimed at improving capacity for adapting to the impacts of climate variability and change on water resource management. This presentation will use these two examples to illustrate the diversity of projects and boundary roles that even an individual RISA often needs to take on in order to be successfully involved in climate adaptation for water resource management.

The first case study focuses on the Boulder County Climate Change Preparedness Plan developed for Boulder County and the City of Boulder, Colorado. WWA was one of three organizations that worked together to organize and develop the plan in conjunction with an advisory panel comprised of government representatives from across the county. Given the County and City's desire to produce a plan that would integrate well with existing planning documents and provide a useful tool for staff to incorporate climate concerns in their everyday work, this plan focused on providing policy-relevant recommendations aimed at specific County and City agencies. Its overall theme encouraged “asking the climate question”–i.e., at a minimum taking the time to consider potential impacts of climate variability and change on a given resource. Given that the county itself has little direct role in water resource management, the plan could not offer much technical detail in terms of adaptation for the water sector. Instead, the plan sought to identify opportunities for water providers in the county to better understand potential climate vulnerabilities and improve adaptive capacity.

The second case study focuses on work that WWA and others, including NOAA's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC), have done to help the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLCDPU) identify potential impacts of climate change on Salt Lake City water supplies and to develop “no-regrets” strategies to address these impacts. For the first year of this project, WWA researchers have used CBRFC hydrology modeling frameworks to quantitatively evaluate the sensitivity of water supply volume and timing to changes in temperature and precipitation and evaluated historic and possible future changes in water demand, giving a preliminary idea of where the system may be vulnerable. From that initial effort, the researchers have selected scenarios and tested them to further explore likely system vulnerabilities. Future work will entail transitioning from vulnerability assessment to adaptation in order to identify water management strategies to mitigate potential future climate impacts.

These two case studies combined offer a number of illustrative contrasts–Boulder County, for example, contains a large number of varied types of water providers, while SLCDPU is a singular water supply entity for a metropolitan area servicing nearly 350,000 people. In addition, the Boulder County project was scoped as a policy-oriented analysis aimed at integrating climate adaptation into existing activities, whereas the Salt Lake effort involved quantitative analysis that will be used to inform specific future planning decisions. In both cases, however, WWA was able to leverage its role as a boundary organization and take advantage of connections to a variety of researchers in order to provide benefit to stakeholders. After the overview of both cases, this presentation will use the comparison of the two in order to demonstrate the need for flexibility and multidisciplinary expertise in the work of a boundary organization seeking to participate in local-level climate adaptation for water resource management.

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