Assessing Local Climate Adaptation and Science Information Needs Coincident with Hydroclimate Variability in a Snow-fed River System

11:15 Tuesday 28 May


Room S10


Kelley Sterle (United States of America) 1; Benjamin Hatchett (United States of America) 2; Loretta Singletary (United States of America) 1; Greg Pohll (United States of America) 2; Wesley Kitlasten (United States of America) 3

1 - University of Nevada, Reno; 2 - Desert Research Institute; 3 - U.S. Geological Survey

Between water years 2012 to 2018, the Truckee-Carson River System in the western United States experienced both historic low and record high Sierra Nevada snowpack, anomalously warm temperatures, and winter and spring flooding. As part of a collaborative modelling research program in the river system, an interdisciplinary team of researchers conducted annual interviews with diverse local water managers to examine shifts in local climate adaptation strategies and implementation barriers. Additionally, workshops that convene researchers and managers facilitated a co-production of new knowledge where local perspectives and information needs are used to prioritize ongoing research activities. This presentation reports:

  1. a comparative analysis of four rounds of interviews (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) conducted with the same water managers;
  2. a local hydroclimate assessment of coincident water years used to situate managers’ perspectives; and
  3. a synopsis of how workshops facilitate social learning and information exchange.

Comparison of annual interview data demonstrates that, regardless of water year, managers steadily increased adaptation efforts described during the dry, warm and historically low snowpack year of 2015. Over the sample period, however, implementation barriers emerged and diminished over time. Compared with 2016, during the record wet year of 2017, comparatively fewer managers described climate uncertainty as an implementation barrier, exemplifying recent hydroclimate variability as the ‘new normal’ climate for which they should plan. In 2018, managers identified key adaptation tipping points, such as the five-year drought pushing water availability to unprecedented lows. A local hydroclimate assessment revealed that recent water years bound historical observations, are consistent with estimated paleoclimate extremes, and indicative of projected climate change, thus affirming managers’ perspectives that recent water years define the ‘new normal’ climate anticipated for the region.

Workshops occurring between interview rounds provided a forum for researchers and managers to work together to further examine salient water management challenges and shifts in adaptation behaviour. They also helped to identify how hydrologic and operations model simulations could provide a deeper understanding of future climate-induced water supply variability. For example, managers requested that researchers simulate alternative water management strategies that account for non-stationary climate patterns, such as managed aquifer recharge, and examine how it could work under existing prior appropriation-based water law. Findings featured in this presentation illustrate how collaborative modelling can integrate local knowledge with applied climate science research to co-produce new knowledge about river system function and support adaptive water management under shifting climate conditions.