Sterle, K., and Singletary, L. 2018, Shifts in Local Climate Adaptation Strategies Over the 2015-2017 Water Years: A Case Study in the Truckee-Carson River System., Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, FS-18-04.


Mountain snowpack remains one of the fastest changing features in a warming climate (USGCRP, 2017). In the northern Sierra Nevada, for example, these changes include less snow accumulation, more rain than snow, and earlier snowmelt runoff. Such changes alter streamflow timing (Hatchett et al., 2017; McCabe, Wolock, & Valentin, 2018; Mote, Li, Lettenmaier, Xiao, & Engel, 2018) and available water supply.

In the Truckee-Carson River System, a collaborative modeling research program brings together researchers and water managers to assess climate resiliency (Singletary & Sterle, 2017; Singletary, Sterle, & Simpson, 2016). As part of this assessment, researchers frequently meet with local water managers in order to understand managers’ adaptation strategies. These strategies seek to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities in response to: extreme droughts and floods, year-to-year water supply variability, and changes in long-term climate conditions (Adger, Arnell, & Tompkins, 2005; Smith et al., 2000). As part of these discussions, managers often describe implementation barriers that constrain or impede their adaptation efforts (Eisenack et al., 2014; Moser & Ekstrom, 2010). This fact sheet summarizes key findings from three waves of interviews conducted with the same key water managers during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 water years (a water year is Oct. 1 – Sept. 30). Local managers represent the interests of diverse and competing municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental and regulatory water-use communities across the river system.

Snowpack conditions, as one indicator of water supply, varied over the three-year data collection period. Water years 2012 through 2016 featured unprecedented drought conditions characterized by historic low Sierra Nevada snowpack and anomalously warm temperatures (Williams et al., 2015; Belmecheri et al., 2016; Mote et al., 2016). However, the winter of 2016/2017 brought numerous atmospheric river storm events resulting in record precipitation, historic Sierra Nevada snowpack and winter and spring flooding (California-Nevada Climate Applications Program, 2017). Comparison of interview data collected during coincident to this period provides insight into year-to-year shifts in local adaptation strategies and implementation barriers (Sterle & Singletary, 2017).

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