Articles | Volume 20, issue 5
Research article
12 May 2016
Research article |  | 12 May 2016

Adaptation of water resource systems to an uncertain future

Claire L. Walsh, Stephen Blenkinsop, Hayley J. Fowler, Aidan Burton, Richard J. Dawson, Vassilis Glenis, Lucy J. Manning, Golnaz Jahanshahi, and Chris G. Kilsby

Abstract. Globally, water resources management faces significant challenges from changing climate and growing populations. At local scales, the information provided by climate models is insufficient to support the water sector in making future adaptation decisions. Furthermore, projections of change in local water resources are wrought with uncertainties surrounding natural variability, future greenhouse gas emissions, model structure, population growth, and water consumption habits. To analyse the magnitude of these uncertainties, and their implications for local-scale water resource planning, we present a top-down approach for testing climate change adaptation options using probabilistic climate scenarios and demand projections. An integrated modelling framework is developed which implements a new, gridded spatial weather generator, coupled with a rainfall-runoff model and water resource management simulation model. We use this to provide projections of the number of days and associated uncertainty that will require implementation of demand saving measures such as hose pipe bans and drought orders. Results, which are demonstrated for the Thames Basin, UK, indicate existing water supplies are sensitive to a changing climate and an increasing population, and that the frequency of severe demand saving measures are projected to increase. Considering both climate projections and population growth, the median number of drought order occurrences may increase 5-fold by the 2050s. The effectiveness of a range of demand management and supply options have been tested and shown to provide significant benefits in terms of reducing the number of demand saving days. A decrease in per capita demand of 3.75 % reduces the median frequency of drought order measures by 50 % by the 2020s. We found that increased supply arising from various adaptation options may compensate for increasingly variable flows; however, without reductions in overall demand for water resources such options will be insufficient on their own to adapt to uncertainties in the projected changes in climate and population. For example, a 30 % reduction in overall demand by 2050 has a greater impact on reducing the frequency of drought orders than any of the individual or combinations of supply options; hence, a portfolio of measures is required.

Short summary
Changing climate and growing populations pose significant challenges for managing water resources. However, a better understanding of these would contribute to improved decisions about how adequate water supplies are maintained. In this paper, we show that a portfolio of both demand management and new supply options are required for the Thames Basin, which provides the majority of water for London, to help alleviate climate and population challenges in the future.