The AGWA Approach: A Video Summary

For some years, I have struggled with how best to explain and describe what we do in the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) — why we need a synthetic, multidisciplinary approach to long-term water management. Why infrastructure is important and has such long-term implications. How we need to think broadly, across institutions and silos. With some colleagues, I have made a short video on AGWA’s decision support work. Hopefully it is a beginning, visual introduction to those questions. Premiering here, on CCW.

The AGWA Approach from John Matthews on Vimeo.

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Energizing Water, Aquifying Energy

Energy and water are intimately interconnected. Water is required for nearly all energy generation processes. In turn, energy is required to extract, transport, and treat water. Climate change is placing even greater pressure on both of these sensitive sectors; understanding linkages between them and incorporating cross-sector planning is essential for their sustainable management and development. Read More...
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US policy perspectives: climate change risks, science, responses

An event last month co-sponsored by the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute and Environmental Change and Security Program and George Mason University brought together speakers who discussed science of climate change, the assessment of impacts, risks and the current state of international negotiations. The event was targeted for the general public and most of the information presented by the speakers could be a review for professionals working in the field, nevertheless parts of the discussion would be interesting even for the acquainted experts.
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How dammed are we? Conservation and dams

Guest blog by Alex Mauroner
Why does the conservation community spend so much time talking about dams — or, more properly, water infrastructure?
The simple reason is that we cannot talk about conservation or sustainable development without also talking about where to locate, how to build and how to operate dams. As part of my internship with the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), I have been spending many hours researching dams. It came as no surprise to find that the answers to the questions above are quite complex.

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Which is worse for water: climate change, or our overreaction?

Recently, I had a great discussion with some colleagues in Europe. All of them have been working on freshwater conservation and sustainable development issues for many years, and at least three of have led or been a part of often quite large climate adaptation programs around water management. None of us are new to the issue. While writing a paper together (on a tight deadline), one of them said in response to a draft I had written: “We need to discuss the impacts of climate change on aquatic systems in more detail when we have more time. You argue here that the direct impacts of climate change are more important. My hunch is that our “overcompensation” (such as building new water storage facilities) will be more important.” This is a tough issue.
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Environmental flows: where have we been, where are we going?

Is it possible to sustain aquatic ecosystems amid the forest of water infrastructure — irrigation, water supply and sanitation, hydropower, and so on? Can we balance needs and competing demands? Does the ecosystem always have to lose? The environmental flows (eflows) movement dates back to the mid-20th century as an attempt to solve precisely this problem. The movement has spread from the developed world to active programs in many dozens of countries. However, the strong scientific basis for thinking about how to systematically include a “fair share” of water for species and ecosystems in aquatic systems is still pretty new — dating back only to the early to mid 1990s. I like to point out how all of the key contributors from this scientific synthesis are not only still alive but very engaged in research, implementation, and learning. Indeed, the sophistication of eflows has increased substantially since then at the same time that the audiences and stakeholders engaging on eflows have broadened. Written by myself and LeRoy Poff, a colleague at Colorado State University, a new paper in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability describes some of the trends of the past 25 years of eflows and suggests some of the emerging directions and challenges for the next 25 years.
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Sustainable water for Wyoming?

Recently, the Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited published the third “Filling the Gap” report on “Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Platte Basin, Wyoming.” The report discusses strategies for meeting growing water needs in the sub-basins around the cities of Cheyenne, Casper, Laramie, Douglas, Rawlins, and Torrington. According to the report, four strategies — conservation, smart structural projects, reuse, and agriculture-urban sharing — should be sufficient to meet or exceed projected water demand in the region by 2035. This is very good news given that yearly water demand in 2035 is projected to actually increase by 15,000 acre-feet compared to water demand in 2010.
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New guidance on freshwater ecosystems and climate resilience

The role of NGOs (non-profits) in water management has never been easy or straightforward. Governments, businesses, communities, and other similar institutions actually manage water, not NGOs. Particularly when big infrastructure is involved, the opportunities for engagement may be few. So civil society is primarily limited to advocating how to manage a complex resource in a sustainable way, often with scarce institutional resources and capacity. Climate change makes this much worse, of course, given the low level of understanding among water managers and any consensus on best practices about resilient water management. A new publication by International Rivers, a great NGO based in California, attempts to fill this gap through an overview of what building and maintaining climate resilience means in the context of rivers and riparian projects for vulnerable communities, ecosystems, and climate-sustainable development in a book-length treatment. (Disclaimer: John Matthews, one of the authors of this entry, served as a reviewer during the development of the text.)
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Carbonating Your Local Lakes and Rivers

Scientifically speaking, the carbon cycle is still remarkably vague, especially the links between carbon and various other cycles. For instance, the connection between long-term carbon storage and forests appears very sensitive to the drought cycle, at least in wet tropical forests such as the Amazon, while wetlands appear to store carbon mostly on a brief, seasonal basis, emitting that carbon through dry-season decomposition.

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Climate change and the doom-industrial complex

Last spring, I was asked by the editors of PLoS Biology on the occasion of the Rio+20 meeting to edit an essay by a collection of researchers based mostly in New Mexico who focus on a branch of ecological science called macroecology. This specialty looks for the physical basis (that is, from physics, not physiological) of many biological processes. A common pattern linked to physical processes such as the conservation of energy is Bergmann’s rule, which states that everything else being equal species in cold regions such as the Arctic should be larger than their near relatives in warmer regions.
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Managing Water: Is it just simple tradeoffs?

As a scientist, I think managing water is a lot more than simply balancing needs — businesses vs cities vs ecosystems vs poverty. This goes to much of my concern with discussing the so-called water “nexus” issues, which represent an emerging language among policymakers and especially the private sector around how to balance food, energy, and water availability. The German government hosted a big, formal international meeting in Bonn in November 2011 about these tradeoffs, centered on this publication by Holger Hoff, which itself was really centered on a single piece of art.
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Learning across boundaries: More about AGWA

Many water-related publications and blogs have noted that this is the International Year of Water Cooperation. For such a fluid molecule, cooperation seems to be an enormous challenge, with conflict seemingly more likely to be an outcome than friendship and sharing. However, even in the Colorado River there have been some positive signs of late. I wanted to share a group I helped form and that I help run. We just received a major external recognition, so I feel very proud of group’s work to date.
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