J22.1 Climate Change, California Drought, and New Water Management Approaches

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 10:30 AM
Room 242 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute, Oakland, CA

Water management systems have always needed to address extreme events and natural climatic variability and have done so through combinations of physical infrastructure, management and operations decisions, regulatory constraints, and educational tools. All of these approaches have fundamentally assumed climatic stationarity. We now know that human-induced climate changes will alter, and are already altering, a wide range of hydrological factors, including precipitation intensity, storm patterns, drought extent and severity, evapotranspiration, snowfall and snowmelt, and more. Yet water managers continue to struggle with how to adapt to these changes and alter -- if necessary -- long-standing rules and practices. The recent severe California drought, and extreme hydrologic events in other regions, offer insights into the links between model projections, direct observations, and policy strategies. What role, if any, has climate change played in the recent drought? How critical is it that the science community link current extreme events to climate change, or is it possible to develop more climate resilient policies even in the face of remaining uncertainties? This talk will review recent experiences in California and elsewhere that help decision makers and the public modify water-management decisions, with a focus on the value of different kinds of hydrologic information, best practices of value to water managers, examples of successful adaptation strategies, and remaining barriers to a transition to more effective approaches. Examples include modifications to existing traditional infrastructure (e.g., Folsom Dam), state or local ordinances that address outdoor water use, arguments in favor of infrastructure that is independent of, or less vulnerable to, climatic variability, and new observational tools, models, and networks for understanding climate impacts on hydrologic variables.
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