Realistically, water managers (planners, designers,
operators) can’t do much about preventing global
warming, any more than they can affect contemporary
climate. Historically, water management has been a
process of continuous adaptation to the considerable
vagaries of climate variability, and accommodations for
any uncertainties associated with our lack of
understanding about climate cycles by introducing
redundancies into engineering design. Adaptive
management (monitoring and learning from mistakes)
has been the foundation of water resources management
since the time of Noah. The key point is that societal
response to both conditions, variability and change, is
virtually the same, i.e., to upgrade and intensify
introduction of innovative and cost effective supply-side
and demand-side management measures, and continue to
create institutions that are more flexible in adapting to
both social and physical changes. However, policy
initiatives that affect legal and institutional controls on
water management are likely to play a much larger role
in future adaptation to climate change than technical and
engineering responses. Engineers can design and operate
their systems more efficiently to increase robustness and
resiliency and reduce vulnerability, but institutional
arrangements must be reconfigured to ensure that future
water resources services can be provided in a sustainable
and equitable manner under a wider range of circumstances.
There are two tiers of adaptive management changes -
policy mandates and agency/utility implementation.
Many of the changes that will position society to better
deal with future climate change uncertainty are already
being debated and implemented in the context of policies
and institutional reforms to deal with an evermore
complex host of issues, and include such matters as river
basin compacts; defining new partnership roles between
Federal, state, and local entities; nonstructural flood
damage reduction; the valuation of water both as an
economic and environmental good; and the increasing
requirements for environmental protection and aquatic
ecosystem restoration. These are the strategic policy
changes that will impose or influence future water
management goals, objectives, and responses on the
respective water management agencies. The components
of water resources management that are directly under the
control of or influenced by water managers include
adoption of improved methods of hydrologic analysis
coupled with risk analysis, improvement of forecasting
methods for system-wide analysis, and more integrated
analyses of multiple watershed needs and outcomes. In
addition, fundamental criteria that affect project
investment analysis and the choice of more
environmentally benign alternatives are being modified
so that future systems will be more robust and resilient to
anticipated climate change, as well as to evolving societal