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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sustainability conference faces uncertain weather

Dry spells, unpredictable weather patterns, a drought spanning the entire Southwest — what a perfect time for UA water management experts to meet and discuss their plans for the future.

Except those plans don’t exist yet.

UA scientists, water resource consultants and water district managers met at the annual convention of the Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas group to wrestle with “”frighteningly”” unpredictable weather patterns and growing demand for water in the desert.

Speakers highlighted a recent lack of weather predictability as the first signs of climate change in the Southwest. Group scientists said weather patterns in recent years are significantly different than 10 years ago, or what is academically known as non-stationary weather patterns.

“”Things are completely upside down,”” said David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. 

Modeer said that past El Niño and La Niña rain falls used to act as a measuring stick for the Colorado River height.  Not anymore.

“”There is something going on here; and we are not really sure what it is … but something is going on,”” Modeer said.

Historically, researchers could use statistical trends to look into the future — but now the changing climate has changed the weather-equation. 

“”Just like every engineer likes to have facts and numbers to make their designs, water managers look at historical weather data to make forecasts,”” said Marie Light, a UA graduate student and convention attendee.  “”Now they don’t have that.””

The group also discussed water management, saying they are in the early stages of creating a long-term water supply program for metropolitan areas in the Southwest; but the implementation will be done in increments.

Water banking, using underground aquifers to store water, is proposed to be an important part of the water supply future along with reducing water allocation to cities, said John Sullivan, associate general manager of Water Group.

But as for the rest of the program, that is to be announced, he said.

“”In 1998 none of us thought that we would have a long-term supply program; now we are all wringing our hands thinking, ‘What do we do next?'”” said Sullivan.

Ever growing population size, along with the climate changes already evident in the Southwest, are making the future of water supply look bleak, researchers said.

The panel hopes the academic community will aid with the early planning stages.

“”Things are not going to happen overnight,”” said Bill Plummer, a water resources consultant. 

“”My hope is that we are not going to invest a bunch of money in things that won’t work.  But we need to have these things in the planning process.”” 

As top researchers brainstorm ideas to satisfy America’s thirst for years to come, some say the answer is a little closer to home. 

“”Meeting our future water demands is not an engineering solution — it’s a people solution,”” Light said.

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