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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

"What stakeholders need to know about the relationships between Water Resources and Climate Change"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 | 10:30 am
Christine Hatch
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Global and regional scale climate models predict changes in the hydrologic cycle in the coming decades.  The total amount of water on earth’s surface cannot change, but the distribution of water resources will, coming in the form of changes in precipitation patterns, quantities, and intensities.  While global climate models effectively capture large-scale patterns, changes, and interactions between hydrologic and climatologic systems, processes that occur on either a short time-scale (such as individual or seasonal storm events) or a small spatial scale (regional, state-wide, local-landscape) may not be represented with the same degree of accuracy.  Unfortunately, a farmer in Hadley or a water manager in the Deerfield watershed is less interested in global climate trends than in what is likely to happen this season in western Massachusetts.  When communicating climate science to stakeholders, this conundrum results in a number of critical questions that need to be addressed:  Is there useful hydrologic information that climate scientists can communicate to these stakeholders?  Are errors in hydrologic predictions from regional climate models too large for planning scenarios and reasonable cost-benefit analyses?  In today’s climate system do (stationarity-dependent) metrics like the “100-year-flood” have real meaning and utility?  What do stakeholders really need to know about water resources and climate change?

One practical example of transferring climate information to water resource management is through the UMass Extension-funded RiverSmart, just begun this October.  This project promotes ecologically restorative flood prevention and remediation in New England (beginning in the Deerfield River basin) that is simultaneously conscious of and looking for synergies between future hydrologic (and climate) conditions, whole-watershed management across jurisdictional boundaries, and potential ecosystem services.

If you are near Amherst, MA, please join us for this talk in Engineering Lab II, room 118 (Kellogg Room) on the UMass Amherst campus.