Managing Europes Water Resources: Twenty-first Century Challenges

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This society occurred the Mansion's addition as the ' Peoples House, ' which opened a narrator for done illegal and selected possibility. Farming practices, such as drainage and wetland removal, are changing the landscape and the ecological services that it provides. Changes in flow now threaten the basin's delta, one of Canada's richest regions for its abundant and diverse wildlife, with declining river flows. Changes in the ecosystem are of profound and personal concern to the First Nations peoples who have traditionally occupied the region, affecting hunting, fishing, trapping and subsistence agriculture.

Figure 3. Drawn from data in [ 74 ]. Superimposed on these current pressures is the need to understand and manage uncertain water futures, including effects of economic growth and environmental change, in a highly fragmented governance environment. Water planning is based primarily on provincial jurisdictions but with various responsibilities for the federal government and other agencies, and different legal frameworks for First Nations land and associated water rights, with the result that there is a lack of catchment-based integrated water resources planning and management.


The SRB thus encompasses many of the challenges faced worldwide in addressing water security. We turn next to a discussion of the research needs to address water security in the basin.

A key aspect of these is the recognition that a river basin is a complex human—environment system, multifaceted and containing strong interdependences and feedbacks, between climate, land and water systems, and people. Not only do we need to address changes to the climate, to terrestrial and to aquatic environments, including water quantity and quality, ecosystem response and land—atmosphere feedbacks, but we must also address the human dimension, including effects of human activities on land and water management, and efforts to bridge the science policy divide through stakeholder engagement, scenario planning, knowledge translation and social learning.

The SRB poses globally important science challenges owing to the importance of, and diversity in, its cold region hydroclimate and ecological zones, the rapid rate of environmental change and the need for improved understanding, diagnosis and modelling of change.

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Biomes of regional and global importance include the Rocky Mountains, boreal forest and the Prairies. To address these requires integrated, coherent, multi-scale, multidisciplinary research. For example, current models have not considered the full range of feedbacks between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and terrestrial ecosystems that occur from small to large scales and are anticipated to be particularly intense in this region.

Khaliq , personal communication. The river basin is a natural hydrological unit and the focus for integrated water management.

Water is a global challenge

The SRB observatory provides the multiple scales of observation and modelling required to develop: i new climate, hydrological and ecological science and modelling tools to address environmental change in key environments and their integrated effects and feedbacks at large catchment scale, ii new tools to support river basin management under uncertainty, including anthropogenic controls on land and water management, and iii the place-based focus for new interdisciplinary science.

To achieve this, existing research sites are being augmented to provide more comprehensive interdisciplinary monitoring, and combined with multi-scale monitoring data from ground and satellite observations to create a large-scale observatory. These sites provide the basis for the development of improved process understanding and fine-scale models for the key biomes, and the application of those models in the detection and attribution of environmental change at local scales.

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Figure 4. SRB research sites. Upscaling is needed for improved atmospheric modelling and basin-scale prediction and management. For example, explicit representation of convection, complex topography and effects such as irradiance on slopes and snow redistribution by wind is increasingly feasible. Developing and parametrizing large-scale models from finer-scale models therefore requires not only assembling and testing fine-scale algorithms and examining their spatial variability for statistical representation, but also ensuring that large-scale models are of appropriate complexity, capture dominant processes and display appropriate feedbacks so that the system behaviour is well described recent application to large-scale modelling of prairie systems is reported by Mekonnen et al.

These principles apply equally to hydro-ecological and water quality models. The SRB is situated in a heterogeneous climate regime with gradients extending from semi-arid to subhumid, with important elements of the natural water cycle involving snow, ice and ground frost. Precipitation is difficult to characterize, particularly in mountainous regions, where altitude effects on precipitation phase are critically important. Important interactions for snow accumulation and melt include forestry management in the mountains and agriculture e. The fact that snow and ice conditions dominate for four or five months per year introduces a natural storage component that has been central to the way in which water is managed and adds heightened sensitivity to climate warming owing to its influence on energy storage and phase changes.

Responses to climate change are therefore particularly sensitive to temperature, as well as precipitation, and associated hydro-ecological feedbacks. While the Rocky Mountains present difficulties due to high relief, complex process interactions and limited data particularly for precipitation , the Prairies also present particular challenges. Features such as roads and culverts can be important hydrological controls. The difficulties of characterizing contributing areas are a major constraint on hydrological and water quality modelling.

Within the SRB, rapid warming is being observed. The sensitivities to climate change are most notable in the west, where changing temperatures are producing smaller snow packs and earlier melt, decreasing glacier size and shifts in the river's run-off regimes. By contrast, the recent wet periods of and produced extensive more than 1 in year flooding in the Prairies, inundation of wetland vegetation and record groundwater levels.

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It will be clear from this limited discussion that an understanding of complex interactions between atmospheric science, hydrological and cryospheric processes, terrestrial ecology and land use is essential to diagnose and predict change in the SRB. However, diagnosis of these effects is not straightforward, given the high levels of historical climate variability, extensive changes in land use and land management, data limitations and high levels of uncertainty in model simulations.

We turn now to complexities associated with human-induced change to the natural environment. These include effects of land management—the extensive effects of agricultural land management in the rural environment, and more localized effects of urbanization. The former can be subtle but important. For example, extensive changes to zero tillage have taken place in the Prairies, with implications for run-off processes. Agricultural drainage has also been extensive, but the effects on run-off, and in particular extreme events, are unclear and controversial.

Both urban development and arable and livestock agriculture are generating significant loads of nutrient pollution. While urban pollution is readily straightforward to characterize, effects of agriculture are complex, and not well understood. Moving from land to water management, it will be evident from the previous discussion that the SRB is a heavily managed river.

Clearly, basin-scale hydrological and water resource modelling must account for these interventions. This raises challenges of complexity, and in particular the extent to which local complexity is important for large-scale simulation. Determination of the appropriate level of complexity for large-scale modelling remains an important area of research.

From the above discussion, it can be concluded that underlying the analysis of water security in the SRB is a complex and multifaceted set of science issues. An important aim, therefore, is to use the multi-scale data from the SRB to improve process understanding and to reduce uncertainty in predictive models. Ideally, predictive modelling would be accompanied by formal analysis of the associated uncertainties.

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In recent years, improved computational capacity has provided the capability for major developments in the formal quantification of uncertainty in hydrological models e. However, more generally, an important set of technical issues arise in the context of the design, development and implementation of integrated models—i. Guidance is needed on the strengths and weaknesses of alternative modelling approaches, e. Related issues include appropriate levels of model complexity scale of representation, what to include, what not, and what is tractable in terms of stakeholder accessibility and available tools modelling platforms.

At a technical level, some model elements are amenable to formal analysis using classical e. While an important goal of scientific research is to reduce uncertainty, as noted above, the translation of GHG scenarios to local impacts is subject to such large uncertainties that conventional approaches may be unable to effectively inform decision making. We turn from the needs for underpinning science for water security to its application, that is, the translation of science into useful information for decision makers and other stakeholders.

One issue is the development of effective decision support tools. A second, interrelated aspect is the process of engagement. In that latter context, we note that the GIWS programme has embraced socio-hydrology as one of its four core themes.

Managing Europe's water resources: 21st century challenges

A key feature of both the scientific and translational components of socio-hydrology is the issue of uncertainty. In the field of water resources management, a key source of uncertainty is associated with non-stationarity. Water resources modelling and management have traditionally been based on the assumption of stationarity—in simple terms, the concept that the statistical properties of the past will be unchanged in the future e.

This has been the conventional basis for optimization models and predict-and-plan methods of long-term water planning and management. The profound uncertainties about the future climate led to Milly et al. Streamflow non-stationarity arises from multiple causes, including climate change, land-use modification and water management.

While climate uncertainties are large, the uncertainties around these other aspects can also be substantial. Nevertheless, the discussion of climate change is instructive, as uncertainties are large and potential feedbacks are wide-ranging, and include effects on land, water and their societal controls. New methods are needed to handle the large, but unquantified, uncertainties in climate models for decision support in the water sector. The science discussed above is being used to improve the quality of downscaled climate information for scenario assessment, to support the development of improved large-scale hydrological and water quality models for the SRB, and to develop water resource systems dynamic models that can support interactive engagement with stakeholders.

At the same time, novel approaches are being used for vulnerability and scenario analyses. The figure illustrates the potential risks to the system as a function of potential impacts of climate change, as represented by changes in annual run-off volume and the timing of the seasonal hydrograph peak system infeasibility refers to the failure to meet prespecified system constraints under current operational policies, i.

This analysis can be used to define current and future system vulnerabilities. However, it also provides the opportunity to map alternative scenarios from regional and global climate models onto the vulnerability analyses following Reynard et al. In this way, the range of outcomes derived from multi-modelling of scenarios can be viewed in the context of system sensitivity and vulnerability.

Download Managing Europes Water Resources Twenty First Century Challenges 2012

Figure 5. Analysis of water resource vulnerability to climate change, South Saskatchewan River, Alberta. Online version in colour. The socio-hydrology programme has been designed to address human-induced changes to water system dynamics through exploratory modelling and decision support using these tools.