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Long-Term Planning in the Colorado River Basin: The Challenge of Deep Uncertainty

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Session Description: 

The Colorado River is critically important—it supplies water to over 40 million people, irrigates over 5 million acres of agriculture, and supports hydropower, environmental, and recreational resources. The Colorado River Basin is also incredibly complex—it spans seven U.S. states and two Mexican states, has highly variable hydrology, and is overallocated. Long-term planning in the Colorado River Basin has always been challenging due to uncertainties in hydrology, demand, policy, and different management priorities among stakeholders. These challenges are now exacerbated by the need to account for potential impacts of climate change. This context is best described as deep uncertainty, where a wide range of assumptions about future conditions are plausible, multiple management perspectives are expressed, and it is impossible to identify the best assumptions about conditions or priorities.

This talk presents studies conducted by Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Modeling and Research Team that demonstrate uncertainty in climate and hydrology and explore Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU) techniques to help address planning challenges.

Supporting Resources:
• Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study
• Technical Report B: Supply Scenarios
• Technical Report G: System Analysis
• Reclamation’s CRB R2O (research) website
• Society for Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty
• Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science Report
• Chapter 2: Current Understanding of Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology
• Chapter 11: Climate Change-Informed Hydrology

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Climate Variability and Change (including Climate Modeling)
  • Human Contributions & Responses
  • Water Cycle