As of this morning, mountain snowpack for the Truckee River Basin averaged 14% of normal, and the Lake Tahoe Basin only 2% — and that’s no April Fools’ joke. With snowpack in California currently averaging 5% of normal and large portions of California and Nevada experiencing a D4-intensity drought (ranked as “exceptional”, the worst on the scale), many people are wondering what this means for life in our region. How full are our reservoirs? How long can we live on the water reserves that we currently have? What do we do if this drought persists? How do we plan for an unpredictable future?
Although it seems that there are currently more questions than answers, local researchers are looking for solutions. On Tuesday morning, representatives from the University of Nevada, Reno held a media information session in the UNR Knowledge Center rotunda to share information about local projects and research related to drought and climate change.Loretta Singletary, professor and interdisciplinary outreach liaison for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, gave out information on the Water for the Seasons and Native Waters for Arid Lands programs at UNR on Tuesday morning.
In the Truckee and Carson River basins, UNR’s Academy for the Environment is involved with two new projects for sustainable water use (Full disclosure: I’m going to be doing some work with this group after I graduate, so went to the information session to learn more!). The first, Water for the Seasons, is a $3.8 million effort to develop climate resilient communities, or communities that are prepared to adapt and respond to extreme climate events like floods and droughts. In this project, scientists from Desert Research Institute, UNR and USGS will be working with community water managers and water users to develop models, options and management plans for dealing with different climate scenarios.
According to Loretta Singletary, professor and interdisciplinary outreach liaison for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, the Truckee-Carson River system was chosen as a site for the Water for the Seasons project partly because of the complicated nature of managing water resources in the arid snow-fed river system that characterizes our region. “This is the most litigated river system in the United States. There are two tribal reservations. The first Bureau of Reclamation project in the US took place here, at Derby Dam. It’s got a lot of firsts and extremes associated with it from an institutional perspective,” said Singletary. Water for the Seasons is a four year project funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture. The outcome of this project will be used as a model for improving climate resiliency in other snowmelt-driven river systems in arid lands around the world.
In March 2015, the UNR Academy for the Environment and Cooperative Extension also received funding for a new project called Native Waters on Arid Lands, a $4.5 million project to work on sustainable agriculture and water management solutions with Native American tribal communities and other partners across the Great Basin and United States. “What we hope to do is work with tribes to develop long-range planning options to sustain water resources during climate change,” said Singletary. Native Waters on Arid Lands will involve all of the Native American tribes in Nevada, including the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe on the lower Truckee River. This is a five-year project funded by the USDA’s Agriculture Food & Research Initiative.
For more information on either of these programs, contact UNR’s Academy for the Environment at http://environment.unr.edu/academy/.