Balancing Water Usage and Ecosystem Outcomes Under Drought and Climate Change: Enhancing an Optimization Model for the Red River

Funding Amount and Duration:

$62,698 from September 30, 2017 - August 1, 2019

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Thomas Neeson, University of Oklahoma

Cooperators & Partners:

Hernan Moreno & Hamed Zamani Sabzi, University of Oklahoma

About:

The Red River Basin is a vital source of water in the South Central U.S., supporting ecosystems, drinking water, agriculture, tourism and recreation, and cultural ceremonies. Stretching from the High Plains of New Mexico eastward to the Mississippi River, the Red River Basin encompasses parts of five states – New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. In the Red River Basin, resource managers face the challenge of allocating scarce water resources among competing uses, but they lack a systematic framework for comparing the costs and benefits of proposed water management decisions and conservation actions.

In 2016, researchers worked with the Great Plains LCC to develop a decision support model for identifying the most cost-effective water conservation alternatives across the Red River basin that can be used by resource managers in the region to aid in the decisionmaking process. This project will extend the optimization model from the previous project in three significant ways that will support cost-effective conservation decisions in the face of more droughts and floods. (1) SC CSC-developed predictions of rainfall, runoff, and stream flows through the year 2099 will be incorporated into a database. Using this database, the enhanced optimization model will enable decision-makers to visualize and evaluate multiple competing water use scenarios under future drought conditions. (2) SC CSC predictions of stream flows and temperature through the year 2099 will be used to estimate the future distributions of 28 fish species of conservation concern across the Red River. These future distribution maps will enable conservation practitioners to proactively manage species projected to be at greatest risk from declining water availability. (3) The optimization model will be extended to enable decision-makers to measure trade-offs between competing water uses and ecological outcomes under multiple scenarios.

The results of this project will provide resource managers with a means to identify conservation strategies that maximize outcomes for Great Plains stream ecosystems while meeting growing societal needs for water.

Evaluation of Sustainable Water Availability in the Drought-Prone Watersheds of Southeastern Oklahoma

Funding Amount and Duration:

$62,698 from September 1, 2017 - August 31, 2019

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Wayne Kellogg, Chickasaw Nation

Cooperators & Partners:

Robert Mollenhauer, Oklahoma State University

Shannon Brewer, Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unity

Tye Baker, Chickasaw Nation

Joshuah Perkin, Tennessee Technological University

Duane Smith, Chickasaw Nation, Duane Smith and Associates

Barney Austin, Chickasaw Nation, Aqua Strategies

About:

During the severe drought of 2010-2015, several communities in southeast Oklahoma came alarmingly close to running out of water. For many of these communities, streams and rivers serve as their sole source of water.  When these bodies of water are depleted the communities that rely on them face great uncertainty regarding their health and economic security. In a changing climate this uncertainty becomes even more profound.

Previously, the USGS, Chickasaw Nation, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma collaborated on a project to apply a range of possible climate change scenarios to the Red River watershed to determine future water availability. The Chickasaw Nation is currently using this information in its drought contingency planning efforts. This new study will further support tribes in their decision making by refining existing models and identifying communities and water bodies that are most at risk, focusing on southeast Oklahoma.

Watershed-wide estimates of future impacts to water resources were produced from the previous project. This study will build on those results, developing water demand and supply projections for the most water vulnerable communities in the region. These projections can be used to aid managers in the development of long-range planning efforts. In addition, this study will look at how likely it is for rivers in southeast Oklahoma to run dry and the environmental implications of such an event. Researchers will focus on fish populations and the ability of the affected species to return to the rivers once normal flow conditions are restored.

The Effects of Wildfire on Snow Water Resources under Multiple Climate Conditions

Funding Amount and Duration:

$40,000 from August 16, 2017 - September 30, 2018

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

C. David Moeser, New Mexico Water Science Center

About:

The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers provide drinking water to millions of people. Snowmelt accounts for 70% of streamflow in these rivers, meaning that water use downstream is directly impacted by snow accumulation and snowmelt patterns in the mountains. Mountain forests are a critical part of the hydrologic cycle that feeds these rivers, providing water supply and storage. However wildfire, which is becoming more common, can disrupt the role of mountain forests in the hydrologic cycle. Until recently, there has been no modeling platform to characterize potential effects of forest fire on snow-water resources under future climate scenarios. Uncertainty about these interactions impedes planning, particularly in the context of stressors such as pests and land use change.

The objective of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of forest, fire, snow, and climate interactions by quantifying the impacts of the Las Conchas fire on local snow-water resources under (a) actual climate conditions and (b) potential future climate conditions. The project is located within the Las Conchas Fire burn zone (where approximately 156,000 acres were burned in 2011) in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. By coupling models developed in previous work, this project will produce the first accurate estimation of the effects of wildfire burn areas on snow-water resources under current and potential future weather conditions.

The modeling framework developed to address these objectives will be relevant not just to the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, but also forested regions globally with snow-water resources that overlap potential burn areas. The National Weather Service plans on employing the results of this study to improve their forecasting capabilities in snowmelt-driven basins that have been impacted by wildfire.

Cultivating a Climate Science Learning Community Amongst Tribal Water Managers

Funding Amount and Duration:

$55,087 from August 1, 2017 - July 31, 2019

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Molly Yunker, University of Oklahoma

Cooperators & Partners:

April Taylor, South Central Climate Science Center

Roger Fragua, Flower Hill Institute

Renee McPherson, University of Oklahoma

Kim Merryman, South Central Climate Science Center

About:

In previous climate trainings conducted for tribes and pueblos in Oklahoma and New Mexico, impacts to water resources have emerged as a priority concern. Building on the success of past South Central CSC trainings such as Climate 101, this project will provide opportunities for water managers from 20 tribes to exchange knowledge in a series of workshops.  These workshops, some virtual and some face-to-face, will allow water management professionals to discuss emerging issues with climate scientists, cultivate a community of practice, and increase their capacity for successful climate adaptation.

Through the workshops, water resource professionals will collaborate to understand the latest developments in climate science. Additionally, they will develop an understanding of effective ways to cultivate a community of learning professionals, with an awareness of best practices of other Nations. The Native American Nations – with people vulnerable to climate change, and governments that can greatly empower regional adaptation efforts – will benefit from the establishment of a learning community. The project participants, future tribal water managers, and their tribes can more effectively help the region seek sustainable solutions as a cohesive group of Tribal professionals.

Wildfire Probability Mapping Based on Regional Soil Moisture Models

Funding Amount and Duration:

$40,985 from August 1, 2017 - July 31, 2019

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Tyson Ochsner, Oklahoma State University

Cooperators & Partners:

Erik Krueger (Co-PI), Oklahoma State University

Laura Norman, Western Geographic Science Center

Matthew Levi, USDA-ARS Las Cruces, NM

Miguel Villarreal, Western Geographic Science Center

Brandon Bestelmeyer, USDA-ARS

Emile Elias, USDA-ARS Las Cruces, NM

David Brown, USDA-ARS Southern Plains Climate Hub

About:

Wildfires scorched 10 million acres of land across the United States in 2015, and for the first time on record, federal wildfire suppression costs topped $2 billion. Wildfire danger modeling is an important tool for understanding when and where wildfires will occur and advancements in these models may increase wildfire preparedness, therefore decreasing loss of life, property, and habitat due to wildfire.  Wildfire danger models may be improved by incorporating soil moisture information, however, soil moisture—an important determinant of wildfire risk—is not currently used for wildfire danger assessments because the necessary data are often unavailable. This project will develop improved wildfire danger assessments informed by precise estimates of soil moisture.

The primary goals of the project are to (1) develop an effective model of soil moisture for the Red River and Rio Grande basins using soil maps and climate data; (2) measure the relationships between modeled soil moisture and wildfire probability; and (3) distribute soil moisture and wildfire probability maps for both basins.

The results of this project will include new web-based tools for exploring soil moisture dynamics in near real-time and relating those dynamics to wildfire probability. These tools can be used by hydrologists, soil scientists, fire planners, land management personnel from universities, state and federal agencies and stakeholder groups including Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and Tribal organizations. In addition to using soil moisture data for wildfire probability models, the maps can be used to make decisions regarding planning prescribed fire treatments and post-fire reclamation activities. 

Regional Graduate Student, Post-Doc, and Early Career Researcher Training III

Funding Amount and Duration:

$61,783 from August 1, 2017 - August 31, 2018

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Derek Rosendahl, South Central Climate Science Center

Cooperators & Partners:

Victor Rivera-Monroy & Kristine DeLong, Lousiana State University

Esther Mullens & Renee McPherson, South Central Climate Science Center

About:

Led by members of the South Central Climate Science Center (SC CSC) consortium, this project will build upon the successes of the 2014 and 2016 trainings to develop and implement professional development training for graduate students, postdocs, and early-career researchers within the SC CSC region. The objectives are: (1) introduce a new cohort of early-career researchers to the research challenges of the SC CSC, offering them insight into how their research fits into the broader priorities of the SC CSC and applicability to end user needs; (2) facilitate interdisciplinary interactions to discuss research with peers and foster collaborative opportunities; and (3) generate a syllabus, knowledge tests, and specific curricular materials designed for a formal classroom setting.

Curricular materials will include digitally recorded presentations on the SC CSC enterprise, a “how to” guide for conducting similar trainings, and real-world case studies that illustrate the science-to-policy interface. Our desire is to remove the institutional barriers, or “silos,” at an influential time of development for these early-career professionals and to build a cohort who can continue networking across the SC CSC through their research pathways and who will eventually lead outcome-oriented, interdisciplinary research.