That will affect how the western United States handles water, said Fahlund with Stanford's Water in the West program. Right now, places like California assume water will be stored as snow in the winter and then will come as runoff in the spring, which the state apportions for various uses during the dry season. The Stanford study suggests that is going to change, he said.
More storage may be needed
Planning needs to begin now for the adjustments that will need to take place with dams, reservoirs and other water system infrastructure, Fahlund said. Dams, for example, might not be able to hold the amount of water that will come earlier in the year.
"We need to look at the changes in total precipitation and the timing and distribution of run-off patterns and see how that lines up with our current infrastructure," Fahlund said in an email. "We continue to operate those systems using assumptions (called rule curves) that are based on the past and not this new normal.
"We can then get a sense of where and how our current infrastructure comes up short," he added. "Some agencies are starting to do this but are probably not moving fast enough. Since it takes a decade or more to build infrastructure, we have time to react, but not a lot."
Current infrastructure was built for a snowpack and water runoff system that the study predicts won't exist in the years to come, he said. "We have to rethink what sort of infrastructure we build in the future," Fahlund said. "It probably shouldn't look like what we've built in the past."
The first step should be to reduce demand and become more efficient, he said. There also should be consideration of "alternative sources" such as water recycling. Additionally, he said, "we should be exploring ways to store excess run-off in groundwater aquifers so that we can use that water during dry years for human and environmental needs."
Many part of the world get through dry years by "mining" groundwater, he said "taking more out than is ever replenished. We need to dramatically change that approach so that we're actively and passively putting more back in than we take out, over a ten-year-average.
"And of course, flood infrastructure will also need to change and improve, starting with providing incentives or requirements for people to move out of harm's way (floodplains)," Fahlund said.
And it's not just about infrastructure, he pointed out. "We have to also amend our policies, regulations, institutions, and financial mechanisms to adapt to this new normal," Fahlund added. "That's a lot of change in a short time and our track record is that we don't often change those things until the crisis is upon us or has even washed over us. Doing it in anticipation is not what we're good at.
"Finding the money in hard times with lots of competition for resources, is also going to be challenging," he said, "but we must."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500