Seminar Abstract

Matt Fontaine

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Assessing vulnerability to natural hazards: An impact-based method and application to drought in Washington State

Recent drought has had severe impacts throughout Washington State . These impacts are expected to increase as demands increase for limited and uncertain water supplies. In the wake of the state-declared 2005 drought, we conducted a comprehensive study of drought and water shortages in Washington State . In this study we analyzed impacts of recent droughts by conducting interviews with more than 60 representatives of five different sectors of the state: agriculture, municipal water supply, environment, power, and recreation.

To analyze the results of this study we developed a technique for assessing vulnerability using measures of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Historically, vulnerability assessments have focused on analyzing the hazard itself, absent information on its causes and mitigations. The Vulnerability Assessment Method (VAM) we developed uses data and heuristics acquired from affected stakeholders to assess not only the hazard, but also the causes of vulnerability, potential for adaptation, previous impacts, and ways to mitigate future impacts. We apply the VAM when assessing drought vulnerability across 34 sectors in Washington State . Interviews were focused on representatives who had known difficulties with water shortages and droughts, and included a range of questions, such as how droughts have affected water users in the past, what lessons they have learned in dealing with droughts, and what information and resources could improve their ability to adapt in the future.

Results indicate highest vulnerability for dryland farmers, farmers with junior water rights, select fisheries, ski area operators, and the green industry. Through validation exercises, we demonstrate the VAM's internal consistency and broader applicability. Contributions of the VAM include its incorporation of stakeholder data, quantitative assessments of underlying vulnerability components, and applicability to other areas and types of hazards such as effects of climate change.

This presentation will cover the VAM methods and results, as well as the information reported by interviewees, such as lessons learned from dealing with past droughts, strategies for dealing with future droughts, indicators used to monitor drought, and information and resources that could increase adaptive capacity.

Speaker bio:

Matt Fontaine is a water resources engineer with Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc.  He has 7 years of professional and research experience on a wide range of projects throughout the Northwest region. His research experience includes assessment of drought impacts and vulnerability across Washington State and an evaluation of state drought programs and plans for all 18 states in the Western Governors' Association. Matt has an interdisciplinary professional background with extensive experience evaluating and developing environmental programs, including stormwater program evaluations, stormwater manual development, environmental compliance audits at large and small facilities, and environmental management system development and auditing. Mr. Fontaine also has project experience in water quality monitoring, surface water modeling, stormwater design, cost estimation, construction management, and design alternative evaluation.