Future Water Availability in the West: Will there be enough? Michael Dettinger,USGS, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA with contributions from Julio Betancourt, Dan Cayan, & others
OUTLINE Natural variations of water availability Projected greenhouse effects on water availability Uncertainties & strategies
Drought Index, April 2003 We are currently in the grip of a devastating drought in much of the West…
But, such droughts are just part of the naturally recurring range of events in the West... Wet early 14th Century NM Spanish Colonization & Encomienda Post-1976 Step change Colo. River overallocation Casas Grandes/ Hohokam collapse 1899-1904 Drought Great Drought Late 16th Cent. Megadrought 50’s Drought Pueblo Revolt courtesy of Julio Betancourt, USGS, Tucson
Medieval megadroughts Precipitation reconstructions Red: Great Basin PC precipitation reconstruction Blue: Methusela Walk bristlecone courtesy, Malcolm Hughes …and droughts in the West are not necessarily limited to the sort that we have known and accommodated during the past 100 years or so. Scott Stine’s Mono Lake treestumps Mega-droughts have reduced runoff from the eastern Sierra Nevada for about 100 years each, at least twice in the past 1000 years… with sustained streamflow reductions of -30%!
Temperature reconstructions from upper treeline: bristlecone pine San Francisco Peaks, AZ Precipitation reconstructions from lower treeline: Douglas fir, ponderosa, pinyon pine Consistently warmer; persistently drier, then wetter than the previous 1400 years! In addition to highlighting the occasional megadrought in the West, such studies show the highly unusual character of the 20th Century, … from Matt Salzer, in press
…and, e.g., the 20th Century yielded fewer-than-”normal” sharp (deep, brief) droughts in California. frequent Numbers of Short sharp droughts Sequoia reconstructions rare courtesy, Malcolm Hughes ---> Can the water systems of the late 20th Century accommodate a less benign climate? (Either with OR without global warming…)
Historical In the near future, global-warming trends are likely to be superimposed upon these ‘normal’ climate variations that our infrastructures & institutions accommodate... …in response to accelerations of the greenhouse effect that began 30+ years ago!
Under this (restricted) forcing, climate models yield a relatively narrow range of warming scenarios for the West. ANNUAL TEMPERATURE OVER CENTRAL ROCKIES
No more cooler than “normal” years after about 2025! Even in the coolest of these models, temperatures begin rising in the 1970s, and unequivocal change might be expected by the 2020s. from ACPI Parallel-Climate model simulations,
With only this warming (i.e.no precipitation changes included, yet) would come less snowfall, more rainfall, & earlier snowmelt… Dettinger et al., in press
So that by the middle of the 21st Century, even in the coolest of the models, major reductions in snowpacks of the Sierra and Rockies are projected... Knowles & Cayan, GRL, 2002
All this results in earlier runoff. Merced River above Yosemite Valley Dettinger et al., in press
Projected streamflow timings, 2080-99 vs 1951-80 …throughout the West. Stewart et al., in press … and we already observe 30+ years of such trends in streamflow records all over the West. Dettinger and Cayan, 1995;Cayan et al., 2001
With all this runoff leaving the watersheds earlier, summer conditions will be much drier and summer streamflow will decline. NOTE: Unless summer precipitation increases markedly, the summertime flow reduction is NOT caused by increased evaporation. Dettinger et al., in press
In many settings, this change in streamflow timing will mean less runoff captured in Sierran and Rockies reservoirs, … TOTAL RIVER DISCHARGE, APRIL-JULY from ACPI Parallel-Climate model simulations, Dettinger et al, in press
…because the change would also entail more severe winter floods. Dettinger et al., in press; http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/ACACIA/workshops/precip/dettinger.pdf
The reservoir manager’s bind: Save the water for warm-season uses? Or maintain lots of empty flood-control space behind the dams?
20% more spills 50% more deficits Notably, even the small historical timing shifts on the upper Merced would yield more spillovers & more deficits(in an imaginary reservoir under simple FIXED rules). • So, how well will such projected shifts (within the year) of the availability & risks of supply be handled by current water systems?
wetter drier Under the same greenhouse forcing, climate models provide less consensus regarding precipitation in the West. ANNUAL PRECIPITATION OVER CENTRAL ROCKIES
wetter drier Will the West be wetter or drier? We don’t know. Some older models (*) yielded wetter; newer ones generally are yielding small changes. * ANNUAL PRECIPITATION OVER CENTRAL ROCKIES * …and, in the panel, Marty Hoerling may speak about a scenario under which we would see considerable Western dry-ness.
Overall precipitation From the rest of the ppt events Precipitation amount, means shifted From the largest 5% of ppt events 1900 1990 2080 But even in the models that project little change in average precipitation, extreme precipitation events increase markedly. PROJECTED TRENDS IN PRECIPITATION BETWEEN 30N-60N That is, all the trend is in the big storms! from ACPI Parallel-Climate model simulations,
Merced Merced With enough additional precipitation (nearly 2x in this example), the winter snowpack & spring snowmelt seasons can survive a moderate warming (+3.5ºC), … Changes in monthly-mean streamflow by 2090s Changes in monthly-mean snowpack by 2090s Wilby & Dettinger , 2000
…but with much larger winter floods! (10x today, in this case) Wilby & Dettinger, 2000 --> Can we make all the tradeoffs necessary to accommodate even a wetter (warmer) climate?
How certain are we of such projections? Really uncertain, on the whole, because… Climate models are not really independent “samples” of the future,… Some AGCM lineages modified from Edwards, 2000
…emissions scenarios may not be as accurate as the selections now used imply, … Historical IPCC 2001 range Castles & Henderson revisions?
Clouds & chemistry Biogeochemical feedbacks … and current climate models don’t include all the important natural processes and human impacts that will be at work. For example… Deforestation & land changes Asian Brown Cloud & other unaccounted-for radiative forcings Abrupt changes & surprises
Thus… • Large uncertainties exist in climate-change projections (as well as in the “natural” future) of water supply, but… • The potential for impacts on water availability are large enough to … * Suggest that climate change poses threats that are worth addressing even now.
Metropolitan Water District’s response to uncertain future demands may provide an informative analog… • Large uncertainties (+ or - 50%) exist in demand projections by 2050, so MWD… • Develops specific strategies to cover middle-of-the-road projection over the next 50 yrs. • --> If demand growth is slower than expected, buildout can be adjusted to take longer than 50 yrs. • --> If demand is faster, buildout can be completed sooner and additional plans will be developed again prior to 50 yrs.
So, will there be enough water? • Enough-to-get-thru-another-20th-Century • will not be enough for the 21st Century. • But, rather than just obtaining more supplies, • climate-change uncertainties mean that Flexibility/robustness need to be focus for now. • Good news: Water managers in many settings are already revising plans & operations to accommodate: • changing conditions on the Colorado • endangered fisheries and ecosystems • fast approaching limits of supply (vs demand). • We need to provide the tools • to include climate resilience in the current revisions.