Experts estimate that snowmelt accounts for as much as 75 percent of water supplies in the western United States. As the climate warms, however, it’s not hard to imagine a future when declining snowpack on western mountain ranges means less snowmelt. Scientists and water managers have already seen worrying changes in the timing and amount of runoff from season to season.
These shifts pose challenges for farmers, who have to consider the availability and price of water when deciding which crops to grow—or whether to stay in business at all. If farmers grow fewer crops as a result of changes in snowpack, what will happen to the region’s food supply? Can farmers and water managers make smart changes now to the way they use and allocate water to help ensure a reliable food supply for decades to come?
Associate professor Ben Ruddell of Northern Arizona University’s School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems (SICCS) is collaborating on a major new five-year study with a team of 11 scientists at five institutions to find solutions to these complex issues. Funded by a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and led by professor Kimberly Rollins of the University of Nevada, Reno, the team will integrate physical and economic models with stakeholder participation to evaluate outcomes of shifts in snowmelt-derived water supplies.