As populations in the West rise, managers of our precious water supplies have to figure out how to deal with increasing demand in the midst of climate change.
In Southern Nevada, we rely on the Colorado River.
But the Truckee River is the lifeline in Northern Nevada, and climate change is affecting them in a much different way.
Bill Hauck is the senior hydrologist for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. He told KNPR's State of Nevada the authority recently hired a firm that specializes in climate change and water supply to see what the warming planet would mean for the region's water supply.
“The results of the study we commissioned show that the future climate is highly uncertain but we are definitely trending warmer but there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the amount of precipitation under climate change,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty, Hauck said there is enough water in the system to continue to supply Reno and the surrounding areas with water. But there could be more volatility in rainfall and snowpack runoff, which could mean more flooding.
Currently, the reservoirs that hold water for Northern Nevada are managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The reservoirs must be under capacity during the winter to make room for floodwaters. Hauck would like to use climate change data to change when they capture the runoff because the runoff is starting earlier than in the past.
“We don’t have to build more reservoirs," he said, "We just have to operate them more efficiently.”
Hauck said they could save thousands of more acre-feet of water every year if they changed when they captured runoff from the snowpack. His department has applied for a grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to work on changing those models.
“So we can operate the reservoirs more adaptively for climate change under earlier runoff,” he said.
Northern Nevada is also in better shape when it comes to water than Southern Nevada because of groundwater supplies and a recent agreement with the federal government to store more water in federal reservoirs.
Hauck said the TMWA is always taking in projections on population growth to make sure they're planning ahead for higher demand. He said the growth data is accurate for the next 20 to 25 years but after that is tough to predict.
Bill Hauck, senior hydrologist, Truckee Meadows Water Authority
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