Impact of climate change on adaptive management decisions in the face of water scarcity

Yang, Y.C.E., Son, K., Hung, F., Tidwell, V.

Journal of Hydrology


Reoccurring drought through the early 2000s has caused a serious water scarcity issue in the Colorado River Basin. Previous modeling studies have focused on the impact of climate change without considering the adaptive behaviors of farmers and under-utilized Indian water rights. In this paper, we use a coupled agent-based water resource model (ABM) to investigate how the adaptive decisions of farmers can affect water resource management under both climate change impacts and fully utilized Indian water right conditions. We used five General Circulation Model projections with RCP8.5 scenarios for the study. The results of farm-level decision-making showed different responses in irrigated areas that were changing due to climate change impact. While winter precipitation changes might partially explain the behavior changes, no specific pattern could be concluded based on their location. Also, farmers’ responses about annual water diversion showed more significant inter-year variation compared to irrigated areas. Basin-level metrics showed that climate change impacts will generally worsen water scarcity issues as measured in Navajo Reservoir storage, flow to Lake Powell, and instream flow requirement. But these basin-level water scarcity metrics cannot reflect individual farm-level impacts under climate change, which is why modeling the bottom-up management actions is necessary. When the under-utilized Indian water rights are fully used, it is more likely to trigger the shortage sharing agreement due to the higher tribal water depletion. Evaluation of model uncertainty and a more realistic setup for adaptive actions under drought contingency plans are suggested for future research.

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