A ‘Grand Bargain’ on the Colorado River

Recently, Dr. Kevin Wheeler gave a highly provocative talk on ways to address the looming renegotiation of the Colorado, and confront future disputes over managing water during times of severe drought between 7 states in the southwest United States and between the United States and Mexico. At the 40th Annual Getches-Wilson Center Summer Conference, Kevin proposed limiting the consumption of the Upper Basin States to a negotiated level well below their aspirational 7.5 million acre feet (maf)/year current apportionment, while concurrently eliminating their potential risk of curtailment when deliveries to downstream states fail to reach 75 maf over 10 years, as would be required under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. By removing the risk of a such a ‘compact call’, opportunities arise to provide more reliable water deliveries to users across the basin, re-design the operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead to improve environmental flows in the iconic Grand Canyon, and allow the states avoid a very uncertain and prolonged battle in the United States Supreme Court.

With almost twenty years of experience working on transboundary river issues, Kevin has been intimately involved in the disputes along the Colorado River, including the historical negotiations between the United States and Mexico, and recently he focuses on cooperation among the countries of the Eastern Nile River. Kevin completed his DPhil at Oxford and is an Oxford Martin Fellow on a new Transboundary Resource Management Project at the Oxford Martin School. He is associated with the Environmental Change Institute in the University of Oxford and advises for the Futures of the Colorado River Project at Utah State University.


Water efficiency in the public sector: The role of social norms

Dr. Bettina Lange and Dr. Kevin Grecksch from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies make a case for the significance of social norms in crafting water efficiency campaigns for public sector organizations.

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Global Water Partnership CEO on effective leadership

For those who couldn’t make the 7 May talk on leadership, participant Simon Damkjaer wrote a blog highlighting Dr Monika Weber-Fahr’s advice.

Read more here.

Smart Handpumps Crowdfunding

On 18 June, BBC South Today featured the Water Programme’s Smart Handpumps project in its evening news bulletin. This timely piece was just before Thursday’s new JMP published report. Patrick Thomson and Jacob Katuva were interviewed about the project and mentioned the crowdfunding campaign, which is going well, reaching 50% of its £50,000 goal pledged as of Friday. This is the final week and this project only receives its pledges if reaches its £50k goal, so spread the word!

Building capacity for climate resilient WASH

Dr Katrina Charles writes about the need to integrate climate within water and sanitation decisions, tools and practices, in order to build long term resilience in the face of climate change.

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Scotch on the rocks: distilleries fear climate crisis will endanger whisky production

Dr Helen Gavin comments on the news that Scottish distilleries halted production during the 2018 heatwaves and explains how climate breakdown & drought can put stress on the environment and the economy.

Read more here.

New insights into the future of water availability in Southern Africa

New research suggests that extreme future drying over southern Africa is an unlikely scenario, but that regional governments should still prepare for a water-stressed future.

By Callum Munday

In the summer of 2015, southern Africa experienced one of its worst droughts on records. Water supply for major cities, including Cape Town (South Africa) and Gabarone (Botswana), was running low; crops had failed; and electricity generation from hydropower was at a minimum. The spectre of climate change loomed large: was this a sign of things to come?

Yes, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s climate models. Ninety-five percent of these models indicate, at least for the early summer season, that southern African rainfall will decline significantly by 2100. Some models project average rainfall declines of close to 100 mm per season—similar to the rainfall anomaly during the summer 2015 drought. If these extreme projections are to be trusted, adaptation to future climate change will need to be fast and effective.

However, climate models are not perfect. Rainfall simulation is a particularly tricky task with longstanding and well documented errors in southern Africa. A key question for climate scientists is whether these errors in model simulations of present-day climate matter for how they project future change.

In a new study in Journal of Climate (Munday and Washington 2019), we address this issue by examining the mechanisms associated with future southern African rainfall/drying changes during the early summer in models. We found broad consensus between models in how they simulate climate change, with the rainfall declines linked to increases in the stability of the southern African atmosphere.

However, by splitting up models into groups according to how much rainfall decreases in the future, we found that models simulating the largest average rainfall declines (close to the 2015 anomalies) contain substantial errors in how they simulate the present day climate. This insight casts doubt on projections of extreme rainfall decreases and suggests that more moderate drying is the more likely scenario1.

Given the effects on southern African society, the evidence that really extreme drying is unlikely is welcome, but there remains a raft of challenges facing regional governments. Temperatures in southern Africa are expected to rise at twice the rate of the global mean, and droughts—when they do happen—could become more intense and prolonged. Preparing for a more water-stressed future, unfortunately, remains a priority for southern Africa.

1Another study which uses a different methodology (Padrón et al., 2019) also concludes that extreme projections of drying over southern Africa are unlikely.

Callum’s research was funded by the UK Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC). It was carried out as part of the Future Climate for Africa UMFULA project, with financial support from the NERC [Grant ref: NE/M020207/1], and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).