North American Water Program (NAWP): A Vision to Address North America's Freshwater Sustainability Challenges

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Paul Houser, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Dramatically changing climates has had an indelible impact on North America's water crisis; the rapid melting of glaciers has profound implications for the sustainability of Canada's rivers. However, projected increases in water demand from increasing population, industrial, energy, and agriculture needs may have four times more impact on the water supply-demand imbalance than climate change.

Reliable prediction of hydrologic change and extremes is of critical importance for policy and decision makers to adapt to these future water challenges. However, the models that we use to understand and forecast water availability, flooding, and drought are simply not up to the task of addressing our most pressing societal issues and national security. We need a decisive and coordinated effort to systematically improve water cycle prediction skill, coupled with reliable methodologies to translate those predictions into actionable water supply and quality information to support sustainable water management this a primary motivation for the proposed North American Water Program (NAWP).

To decisively address these challenges, we recommend that NAWP coalesce an interdisciplinary, international and interagency effort to make significant contributions to continental-to decision-scale hydroclimate science and solutions. By entraining, integrating and coordinating the vast array of interdisciplinary observational and prediction resources available, NAWP will significantly advance skill in predicting, assessing and managing variability and changes in North American water resources, as an integral part of the global climate system.

We adopt three challenges to organize NAWP efforts. The first deals with developing a scientific basis and tools for mitigating and adapting to changes in the water supply-demand balance. The second challenge is benchmarking; to use incomplete and uncertain observations to assess water storage and quality dynamics, and to characterize the information content of water cycle predictions in a way that allows for model improvement. The final challenge is to establish clear pathways to inform water managers, practitioners and decision makers about newly developed tools, observations and research results.