Impact of Climate Change on Water Supply



Statement of Terry Fulp, Area Manager

Boulder Canyon Operations Office

Bureau of Reclamation

Department of the Interior

Before the

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on Water and Power 

June 6, 2007

Hearing on Climate Change and its Impact on Western Water

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Terry Fulp, and I am the Area Manager at the Boulder Canyon Operations Office at the Bureau of Reclamation.  It is a pleasure to be here today alongside the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to discuss the Bureau of Reclamation’s operations, and the state of the science on global climate change. 

There is extensive study, and discussion, within the scientific community about whether the West is experiencing warmer temperatures, longer growing seasons, earlier snowpack runoff, and more precipitation occurring as rain rather than snow.  As the predictive capabilities of climate change models improve, western water resource management is looking to where and how to incorporate new climate change information.

A report released earlier this year from the National Academies of Science on Colorado River Basin Water Management concluded that “higher temperatures will result in less upper basin precipitation falling as snow, increased evaporative losses, and will shift the timing of peak spring snowmelt to earlier in the year.”  Reclamation is evaluating methodologies for incorporating climate change information into its west-wide operations.

Fortunately, Reclamation already possesses operational flexibility to respond to hydrologic change and fulfill its mission to deliver water and power in the West.  Drought, flood, and wide climate variability are all common occurrences in the western United States.  Given its mission, Reclamation must manage with this variability in mind.  However, solutions and strategies for incorporating climate change science into water project operations is an emerging effort being undertaken by all western water management interests, not just Reclamation.  Identifying the information needed will require coordinated participation from all the organizations that can provide expert climate and hydrologic sciences. 

Reclamation works with its many partners to better understand and incorporate climate information into western water resource management.  These partnerships include:

·        Department of the Interior – United States Geological Survey (USGS) – The Reclamation Research and Development (R&D) Office is working with climate change experts in the USGS to help define the impact of changes in climate variability and climate change on western water resources. USGS and Reclamation management met in April 2006 to discuss collaboration and coordination efforts.

·        Department of Energy (DOE) – Reclamation is working with DOE on evaluating general circulation climate models at the level of individual Reclamation drainage basins, and use of the resulting model information by Reclamation Regions.

·        Department of Commerce – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- Reclamation is in the early stages of collaboration with NOAA Regional Integrated Science and Assessments Centers in the western U.S. to assist in data selection, interpretation, and understanding.  These centers include the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, the California Applications Group, the Western Water Assessment, and Climate Assessment for the Southwest.  We are also collaborating with NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory to assist Reclamation to better understand the science surrounding climate variability and climate change.

·        National Science Foundation (NSF) Funded Science Centers – These research centers include the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Center for Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas.  NSF also funds the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science Inc., which has developed a Hydrologic Information System that may be of use to Reclamation as we seek to have better access to critical Hydrologic data.  Reclamation plans to work with individuals in these centers and to utilize the available data to understand the impact of climate variability and climate change on western water resources. 

·        State of California – Department of Water Resources (DWR) –  Reclamation is conducting joint research with DWR on assessing the risks of shifting climate on Reclamation's water and power operations  This effort focuses on the Central Valley and State Water Projects. Additional partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USGS, Scripps Institute, and Santa Clara University.

·        U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – NRCS’s Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) network provides an extensive, automated system designed to collect snowpack and related climate data in Alaska and the western United States which can be used to produce water supply forecasts.  NRCS’s Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) is an information system designed to provide data on soil moisture and climate information from a number of different sources. 

Secretary Kempthorne has convened a Climate Change Task Force chaired by Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett.  In testimony delivered April 26, 2007, the Deputy Secretary spoke about the Task Force to the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.  She explained that uncertainties persist on the timing, scale, and site-specific incidence of climate change impacts.  Widely respected models differ in their projections about precipitation patterns, changes in vegetation, extent of sea level rises, and so on.  Moreover, global climate modeling is just beginning to provide descriptions and projections at the regional and smaller scales that are needed to be useful for land managers on the ground. 

To address this, the Task Force has designated three subcommittees.  The first is currently reviewing the legal and policy issues associated with reviewing climate change effects in land-use planning. The second subcommittee focuses on land and water management, and cataloguing impacts relevant to Interior managed lands and waters.  And the third subcommittee will focus on whether modeling might be developed at regional scales to better project more location-specific changes to the landscapes we manage. The three subcommittees will evaluate information needs and whether new types of monitoring might strengthen our understanding of on-the-ground trends in water availability and timing of flows, vegetative patterns, movement of species and so on.

Reclamation will continue to develop these partnerships to better understand and incorporate climate information into western water resource management.  However, we do not believe that operational changes to release patterns or storage levels at major water facilities are warranted at this time.  In order for new operational regimes to be warranted, Reclamation would look for much more specific, real-time hydrologic indicators at the basin level than currently exist, to show that runoff and inflows are occurring far outside the normal range.  In some locations, methods may be available for linking climate change information to actual runoff.  But more specific data to inform those methods is needed, and Reclamation would look for a dramatic change in the timing and volume of inflows beyond the capability of current operations and flood plans before implementing substantial changes in operations. 

We also continue to work with our water users to institute improved water management and conservation in order to be better prepared for any possible future impacts associated with climate change.  Our Water 2025 and Water Conservation Field Services Program, as well as current processes to analyze shortage sharing and coordinated water operations in the Colorado River Basin, all are important in this effort.

Together, and with the support of Congress and our customers, we believe that these activities will make Reclamation well-equipped to adapt to climate change impacts if and when they bring about new hydrologic regimes within the river basins of the West. 

This concludes my written statement.  I am pleased to answer any questions the subcommittee may have.