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US needs to plan for climate change-induced summer droughts

"Providing adequate supplies of clean water is a challenge when there is normal precipitation," McGrath said, "and extended times of drought and water shortages create further stresses for our water systems. Yet in marked contrast to the myriad federal programs that report, prevent and mitigate the damage of other extreme events like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes we accept drought's effects as an unavoidable natural hardship."

Science has the ability to help inform potential policy, yet there is reluctance by many water managers to integrate new climate information into decision processes, said Katharine L. Jacobs, executive director of the Arizona Water Institute.

Barriers to using new scientific information may come form a combination of technical, cognitive, financial, institutional and cultural factors, she said.

"Many water managers have a fixed view of the environmental record," Jacobs said. "They use historic data for managing surface water reservoirs, designing infrastructure and assessing groundwater availability, instead of incorporating new data on climate change, probabilistic climate forecasts and ensemble stream flow predictions.

"New forms of scientific and interdisciplinary training can improve the opportunities for managers to use these new tools," she added.

Science can help, agreed Dennis Lettenmaier of the University of Washington. Improved hydrologic forecasting, new climate observation and data collection technologies, better models for predicting the impact of climate change on water supplies, and advances in water use technologies all offer valuable tools for management.

"Many of the issues posed by water scarcity and water demand are not scientific in nature and have roots in water law, economics and marketability," Lettenmaier said, "but science can play a more central role in western water management."

It is "long past time" to integrate climate change into water planning and management,
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Contact: James Coakley
coakley@coas.oregonstate.edu
541-737-5686
Oregon State University
16-Feb-2007


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