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Projected Impacts of Climate Change Induced Water Quality Trends on Reclamation Operations

Project ID: 4311
Principal Investigator: Katharine Dahm
Research Topic: Water Quality
Priority Area Assignments: 2013 (Advanced Water Treatment)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2013
Keywords: water treatment, climate change, water quality trends, technology modifications, strategic planning

Research Question

Based on Research Office recommendations this project is submitted as a broad based scoping study.

General knowledge gaps regarding climate change projections were evaluated in the January 2011 Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers report Addressing Climate Change in Long-Term Water Resource Planning and Management: User Needs for Improving Tools and Information. Reclamation placed a high priority on assessing natural systems responses to climate change, specifically, understanding how water quality characteristics depend on climatic variables.

A broad amount of research and information currently exists with respect to modeling and projecting climate change. Reclamation participates in the interagency Climate Change and Water Working Group (CCAWWG) to support research efforts in water management as climate changes. The objective of this proposed project is to complement the research currently preformed in the CCAWWG by applying climate change research findings to identify water quality trends and future water quality management needs. This project proposes the evaluation of existing information to examine general water quality trends in western water resources that influence the operation of reclamation facilities and strategize needs for water quality research in response to climate change.

Proposed scoping study research question: How will changes in water quality due to climate change impact Reclamation operations in the western United States?

Need and Benefit

Changes to water quality have the potential to influence a broad range of reclamation operations. These areas may include, but are not limited to:

- Agricultural Water Supply: Trends involving increased evaporation and salinity impairments to agricultural waters may limit suitable source waters for agricultural purposes.

- Water Storage: Dam storage holding water volumes may be impacted by increased water temperature due to higher ambient conditions. Additionally, sediment loading behind dam structures may increase due to increased likelihood of wildfires causing high turbidity runoff and long term decrease in dam storage capacity.

- Invasive Species: Changing water conditions (e.g. water temperature, salinity) may become more conducive for invasive species and limit native species habitat in and around aquatic systems. Species such as Salt Cedar or Russian Olive also require more water than native species and can reduce overall water volume in impacted areas.

- Restoration: Aquatic ecosystem restoration may have to consider increased sediment loading, water temperature and salinity when evaluating dam removal project influences on the environment.

- Municipal Water Supply: Snowmelt storage may decrease based on certain projections and anthropogenic compound concentrations may increase in fresh water supplies due to reliance on higher mixing ratios from municipal wastewater discharge locations to supplement lower summer and fall water levels.

- Water Treatment/Desalination: Water treatment systems are designed to facilitate treatment of specific water constituents. Water quality changes directly impact the capability of current water treatment infrastructure to successfully treat water resources and the design of future treatment plants to meet end user requirements.

Contributing Partners


Research Products

The peer reviewed technical report will include a literature review of water quality trends based on climate model projections and the relation of those trends to potential impacts on Reclamation operations such as:

- Agricultural Water Supply
- Water Storage
- Invasive Species/Native Habitat Loss
- Restoration
- Municipal Water Supply
- Water Treatment/Desalination

This information was last updated on April 19, 2014
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