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Water in the West - Session 3 - Mike Hightower


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Transformational Management of Forest Ecosystems to Improve Water Availability and Ecological
Resiliance in the West

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Water in the West - Session 3 - Mike Hightower

  1. 1. Management of Forest Ecosystems to Improve Water Availability and Ecological Resilience in the West Laura McCarthy The Nature Conservancy New Mexico Field Office Mike Hightower Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque, NM Transformational Solutions for Water in the West University of New Mexico, September 5, 2013
  2. 2. Climate Change will Impact Precipitation, Evapotranspiration, and Runoff 10% reduction in precipitation equals a 20% reduction in runoff in the SW Nat. Geo. April 2009 from IPCC “Water is where the climate change rubber meets the road” Dr. Bernie Zak, Sandia Sr. Climate Scientist, 2013
  3. 3. Southwest Climate History Based on Tree Ring Data 20 18 Avg. Precipitation (inches) 16 14 12 25 0 45 0 65 0 85 0 10 50 12 50 14 50 16 50 18 50 20 50 50 -1 50 10 Univ. of Arizona – Tree Ring Research Lab Year The southern U.S is the 100th year of a 300 year arid cycle, this is not what we should be calling a drought
  4. 4. Projected Rio Grande Flows through 2100 “Results are not predictions, but rather a starting point for dialogue and increased awareness of potential impacts of climate change.” Roach et al, 2013
  5. 5. Traditional Western Surface Water Availability Relies Heavily on Annual Mountain Snowmelt Illustrative example (Southwest) Month 60-70 % of western river flows come from runoff of snowmelt in mountain watersheds
  6. 6. The Number, Size, and Severity of Forest Fires Has Grown Significantly in the U.S. Over the Last Four Decades Two major contributing factors - forest management and climate . .. ... Noted by U of A 2006, and finally by NOAA 2012, NASA 2012, USDA 2012, Harvard 2013, 2013 draft NCA
  7. 7. Forest Management Contributions to Fire Intensity • Past forest and fire management practices have contributed to increased fuel loads and fire severity. • Future management practices must consider climate change impacts. Many small trees, high intensity fires (Tree Diameter) Few large trees, low intensity fires
  8. 8. Ecosystem Damage from High Intensity Fires Photo: Craig Allen, USGS
  9. 9. Watershed, Water Quality, and Reservoir Damage from High Intensity Fires
  10. 10. Possible Future Impact of Forest Fires on Mountain Watersheds Climate change is compounding already unhealthy forest conditions “You might get to the point where in some parts of the West, there are no more forests.” Don Wuebbles, 2013 Draft NCA
  11. 11. Forest Treatments Can Reduce Fire Intensity and Reduce Snowpack and Water Yield Loss  Thinning can reduce snow sublimation by up to 50% (Veatch et al. 2009)  Winter ablation in burned areas reduces snowpack by 50% (Harpold et al. 2013)
  12. 12. Transformational Forest Management Solutions to Improve Water Availability and Ecosystems  Improve fire modeling tools to quantify ecologically and water shed safe forest thinning treatments for individual watersheds  Thinning could generate as much as 100 tons per acre of biomass – volumes compatible with distributed rural energy uses such as gasification  Forest fire fighting and fire damage costs can approach or exceed forest thinning costs