Public Lecture

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

Rebecca Smith | Author
United States Bureau of Reclamation
Rebecca Smith | Presenter
United States Bureau of Reclamation
November 18, 2020

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.