Collaborative Modeling to Assess Climate Adaptation and Science Information Needs in Snow-fed River Systems
AuthorSterle, Kelley Marie
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Snow-fed river systems are acutely sensitive to climate change, providing unique case studies to advance an emergent field of socio-hydrology. Climate change alters seasonal snowpack dynamics with warmer temperatures bringing precipitation as rain versus snow, increasing winter flood events, decreasing snowpack accumulation, advancing snowmelt to earlier in the year, shifting peak streamflow, and altering surface water storage and groundwater recharge. Water management based on historical and stationary climate patterns is further challenged under a warmer climate. Participatory research approaches, such as collaborative modeling, are ideally suited in the case study setting and acknowledge the role of local stakeholder knowledge in understanding dynamics between human and water systems.This work presents research as part of a larger collaborative modeling case study underway in the snow-fed Truckee-Carson River System in California and Nevada. Through systematic and iterative engagement with local diverse water managers across the river system, researchers harness local knowledge to assess climate adaptation, identify science information needs, and prioritize hydrologic and operations model simulations accordingly. The following research questions are addressed by this work: 1) How do water supply challenges vary as a function of hydroclimate conditions? 2) How do local adaptation and implementation barriers change coincident with interannual hydroclimate variability? 3) Under a warmer climate and earlier snowmelt regimes, to what extent do locally-identified adaptation strategies enhance water supply? 4) What science information is needed to further support local climate adaptation?Comparison of interviews conducted with key water managers during the 2015 and 2016 consecutive warmer drought years reveals increased drought adaptation efforts that include: enhancing water supply through alternative sources, collecting data to monitor climate impacts, increasing flexibility of existing water management, and fostering improved communication and collaboration among other water managers. Despite drought relief brought by the historic 2017 wet year, these same managers described ongoing drought adaptation efforts to enhance water supply that gained momentum as a result of the improved relationships required to mitigate flood damage. While managers described climate uncertainty as the greatest impediment to their adaptation efforts during consecutive warmer drought years, managers referred to this barrier less often, exemplifying recent climate variability as the “new normal” climate for which they should plan. Instead, managers identified as a critical barrier existing water management practices based on stationary climate patterns and requested researchers simulate locally-identified water management strategies under a warmer climate.To facilitate an evaluation of locally-identified adaptation strategies, researchers simulate Truckee River reservoir reoperation to allow for earlier storage under a warmer climate scenario. Simulation results from an integrated hydrologic and operations model tailored to the Truckee River Basin demonstrate that reservoir reoperation effectively absorbs earlier snowmelt runoff and peak streamflow timing and provides downstream benefits for urban, agricultural, and environmental water users. This work illustrates how collaborative modeling involving local stakeholders and researchers generates information essential for local climate adaptation and also advances applied climate and socio-hydrology research. The collaborative modeling research design can be replicated in other regulated snow-fed river systems characterized by diverse and competing stakeholders managing scarce water supplies under climate change and researchers willing to work closely with stakeholders to investigate strategies in support of local climate adaptation.