Strategies for sustainable water management in the western U.S.

From Earth & Space Science News (Scott Tyler, Sudeep Chandra, and Gordon Grant):

Much of the landscape of the American West is under federal and state management, and the [20th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit] identified five key initiatives that the research community, in partnership with management agencies, could implement to improve water management:

  • Implement a new cross-agency/cross-disciplinary audit of monitoring networks. An examination of our existing research networks, including critical zone observatories, long-term ecological research sites, and other experimental forest and range sites, would help determine their sustainability and value in assessing how extreme climate events influence hydrology and ecology.
  • Integrate research programs to design resilient forests. Research should focus on reducing water stress, quantifying the water storage potential in snow and the subsurface, and incorporating emerging science on ecophysiology and mortality, climate variation, and climate change.
  • Implement a major program to advance hydrologic monitoring in the mountains of the western United States. Measurements should focus on precipitation, snowpack, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and groundwater across the West.
  • Couple atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine observatory networks to improve prediction. Linking offshore measurements to the land at both regional and river basin scales would improve predictions of atmospheric rivers, drought, El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and other episodic events ranging from days to decades.
  • Target field campaigns using novel technologies. Novel technologies (i.e., new sensors, drones, and airborne platforms) can help assess and fill data gaps that currently limit the accurate understanding of water availability at all geographic scales.
  • The workshop concluded that it is time for a western-focused, integrated center to develop science- and social science–based solutions for addressing water scarcity and resilience to change in the West. Such a center would bring state-of-the-art scientific, engineering, and socioeconomic findings to bear on critical water issues in the context of public policy, planning, and socioeconomic trends. And now given the swing to flood conditions as we enter the spring of 2017, the need for resilience is even more pronounced.

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