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Estimating the impacts and uncertainty of climate change on a municipal water supply system

TitleEstimating the impacts and uncertainty of climate change on a municipal water supply system
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsWiley MW, Palmer RN
JournalJournal of Water Resources Planning and Management
Start Page239
Date Published05/2008
KeywordsClimatic changes, Estimation, Municipal water, Uncertainty principles, Washington, water resources, Water yield

The preponderance of evidence in the scientific community supports the premise that global climate is changing. The precise impacts of climate change on natural and man-made systems remain less certain. Municipal water supplies, particularly those that rely on summer snowmelt to augment storage capacity, may experience significant changes in their flow regimes in the future. This paper presents an evaluation of climate change impacts on a water resource system using a three-stage modeling approach: General circulation models (GCMs) to simulate global climate, basin scale hydrology models, and water resource system simulation models. This approach is applied to two river basins in the Puget Sound Region of the Pacific Northwest: The Cedar and South Fork Tolt Rivers, which are the principal sources of water for the Seattle metropolitan region. The greatest source of uncertainty associated with climate change impacts arises from the range of future scenarios produced by GCMs. This uncertainty is addressed by incorporating multiple climate models at every stage of the process and using the values produced to generate an ensemble average that quantifies the most likely impact. The ensemble average is characterized by an envelope of uncertainty based on the range and spread of the individual GCM ensemble members. Hydrologic impacts of climate change such as alteration of historic streamflow patterns and snow accumulation are explored, as well as impacts to the water supply system’s yield.