Using the Past to Plan for the Future—The Value of Paleoclimate Reconstructions for Water Resource Planning

Authored by: Connie A. Woodhouse , Jeffrey J. Lukas , Kiyomi Morino , David M. Meko , Katherine K. Hirschboeck

Water Policy and Planning

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781482227970
eBook ISBN: 9781482227987
Adobe ISBN:


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Drought, growing demand on limited water supplies, and the impacts of climate change are all challenging the management of water resources in the western United States. While there is an increasing focus on climate change, information from the past in the form of tree-ring reconstructions of hydrology can provide information critical to water resource management. These reconstructions document the hydrologic variability that has transpired over past centuries, including events more extreme than those experienced in the modern period. Long-term natural variability, including droughts, will underlie the effects of anthropogenic climate change in the future. Reconstructions of past flows have been generated by researchers since the 1970s but have only recently been incorporated into resource planning and management. A number of challenges exist for the incorporation of this information into management, but a variety of motivations have prompted collaboration between researchers and water resource practitioners to develop ways this information can be applied. Examples from Denver Water, the Salt River Project, and the Bureau of Reclamation illustrate both the challenges and innovative uses of the reconstructions to address management questions. Looking into the future, tree-ring records supply important information about past climate, which, when combined with projections for future climate change, can provide a basis for robust water resource planning.

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