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Seminar Abstract

Lara Whitely Binder - October 22, 2002

 

Assessing Vulnerability to Climate Impacts at a Watershed Scale: Developing an Alternative Approach

Washington State faces many challenges in managing its water resources. Growing population, endangered species requirements, irrigation needs, water quality concerns, and demands for hydroelectric power production are continuing to place strains on a system already struggling to meet existing demands in many areas of the state.

Natural climate variability and human-induced climate change will exacerbate water resource conflicts by altering the type and timing of precipitation throughout Washington. The likelihood for increased precipitation and increased water shortages as a consequence of climate variability and climate change, although seemingly counterintuitive, could result in significant disruptions to natural environments, local economies, and community lifestyles. Early recognition and assessment of potential climate impacts at a local level gives communities time to consider options for action - rather than reaction - to climate variability and climate change, potentially reducing the effects of these disruptive changes. This is particularly important given that the watershed level is where the impacts will first be felt and where many of the difficult choices must be made.

To aid in the assessment of potential climate impacts on water resources, a preliminary list of natural, socioeconomic, regulatory, and other vulnerability indicators has been developed for use as an evaluative tool. Use of these indicators in a vulnerability assessment gives decision-makers the opportunity to consider climate impacts as a two-way street. In one direction, the vulnerability assessment facilitates considering how climate variability and climate change might affect specific characteristics of a watershed. In the other direction, the vulnerability assessment helps identify how specific watershed characteristics might influence vulnerability to climate impacts. Recognizing and understanding these relationships may contribute to the development of watershed management strategies that reduce overall watershed vulnerability by minimizing negative feedback loops and creating more opportunities for adaptation.

The seminar presentation will provide a brief overview of:

  • selected vulnerability indicators for use in a watershed-scale vulnerability assessment,
  • how a vulnerability assessment might be conducted using the indicators,
  • challenges experienced in initial application of the indicators to Washington State watersheds, and
  • next steps in developing the use of the indicators.

It is hoped that the presentation will provide opportunities for feedback about the indicators and assessment process.

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