Water Resources in the West: Assessing Tradeoffs in a Changing Climate

On July 13, 2009, ESA hosted House and Senate briefings, “Water Resources in the West: Assessing Tradeoffs in a Changing Climate,” featuring Society members: Jill Baron of the US Geological Survey and Colorado State University; Darrel Jenerette of the University of California, Riverside; and Diane Pataki of the University of California, Irvine. 

The ecological scientists provided information on the current status and future outlook for freshwater resources in the American West, where the impacts of climate change and agricultural and urban demand are most pronounced. Sharing insights from their work in urban, agricultural, and natural ecosystems, they discussed the implications of water management and conservation strategies, with an emphasis on the tradeoffs inherent to water allocation decisions.

Dr. Baron explained the drivers behind western water shortages, described the possible negative impacts of these shortages on natural freshwater ecosystems, and discussed how such impacts might be lessened through adaptive ecosystem management.

Dr. Jenerette discussed how water allocation decisions impact the availability of ecosystem resources and how ecological research can assist in decision-making .

Dr. Pataki focused on urban ecology, explaining how existing landscaping decisions—including some “green” initiatives—can reduce water efficiency. Giving the example of tree planting projects, Pataki demonstrated the importance of considering ecological factors, such as the types of tree species planted, in making land-use decisions.

The two briefings drew more than 100 attendees in total, including congressional staff and researchers, federal agency representatives, and members of the scientific community.

Full presentations:

Scarce Western Water is About to Get Scarcer: What are the Implications for Freshwater Ecosystems
Dr. Jill Baron, US Geological Survey, Colorado State University

Water, Ecosystem Services, and Society in the Changing Western United
Dr. Darrel Jenerette, Michigan State University

Water Allocation Tradeoffs in Urban Ecosystems
Dr. Diane Pataki, University of California, Irvine

Click here to view the summary handout from the briefing.