Water for the Seasons is a five-year collaborative research program in the Truckee-Carson River System that partnered an interdisciplinary research team with the Stakeholder Affiliate Group, which represents the diverse and competing municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental and regulatory water management organizations from headwaters to terminus. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and United States Department of Agriculture Water Sustainability and Climate Program, this five-year integrated research and Extension initiative assessed the sustainability of water resources across the river system to climate change.

Hydrologists, climatologists, resource economists and political scientists worked alongside local water managers to:

  1. Identify climate change impacts to water resources;
  2. Develop and simulate climate scenarios that test river system resiliency; and
  3. Examine the effectiveness of potential adaptation strategies to mitigate identified impacts.

Over the five-year period, researchers sought out and incorporated local water managers’ knowledge and perspectives to model the effects of climate change on the river system’s hydrology, river and reservoir operations, and related water management institutions that govern the allocation, diversion and use of water resources. This Special Publication briefly introduces the Truckee-Carson River System case study area, describes the Water for the Seasons research program, and presents 10 key takeaways from this five-year collaboration between local water managers and researchers.

The Truckee-Carson River System

The Truckee-Carson River System comprises the Truckee (121 km) and Carson (131 km) Rivers that originate as snowpack in Sierra Nevada of California and flow northeastward into the Great Basin in northwestern Nevada. The river system typifies water resource challenges observed across the arid western United States, where water supply is highly dependent on accumulated snow that melts through spring to fill reservoirs and recharge groundwater aquifers to meet summer demand. The 7,026 square-mile area encompasses multiple and historically contentious water management challenges common to snow-fed river dependent communities in the arid West. These include allocating water resources to:

  1. support municipal and industrial development, population growth and recreation;
  2. irrigate agricultural lands;
  3. rehabilitate and protect ecological systems; and
  4. sustain fisheries, agriculture, and municipal and industrial development on Native American reservation lands.

Prior Appropriation Doctrine is the institution governing water allocation across the river system, which includes federally operated reservoirs and an interbasin transfer that diverts Truckee River flows to Carson River flows via the Truckee Canal to support the first federal desert reclamation project for irrigated agricultural development.

Collaborative Research Approach

Collaborative modeling incorporates local stakeholder knowledge into applied research. At the program’s outset, an interdisciplinary research team collaborated with key local water managers identified through a stakeholder analysis. This analysis identified the primary water use organizations on the system whose managers were willing to work with the research team through the life of the program. The Stakeholder Affiliate Group included representatives from 12 organizations representing diverse and competing water users across the river system from its headwaters to terminus, and included regulatory, municipal and industrial, agricultural, and environmental interests.

Ongoing interaction between the research team and Stakeholder Affiliate Group water managers served to guide the research and validate outcomes. Biannual workshops provided a forum for learning and relationship-building. Interviews and focus groups served as additional opportunities for researchers and water managers to exchange information and further prioritize program research activities.

For charts, figures, graphics and the 10 key takeaways use the link below to download the complete document.


Sterle, K., Singletary, L., Lee, G.-E., Rollins, K., Pohll, G., McCarthy, M., Rajagopal, S., Albano, C., Boyer, W., Huntington, J., Dettinger, M., Niswonger, R., Morway, R., Kitlasten, W., Gardner, M., Coors, S., and Jose, L. 2020, Water Sustainability and Climate in the Truckee-Carson River System, Western United States: 10 Key Takeaways from the Water for the Seasons Collaborative Research Program. , Extension I University of Nevada, Reno, SP-20-02.

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Associated Programs

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Water for the Seasons

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SNOWPACS: Synthesizing kNowledge to Optimize Water Policy for Agriculture under Changing Snowpack

SNOWPACS is a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)-funded project on the impact of changes in mountain snowpack on agricultural production and water allocation institutions in the western United States.