Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015MT292B

Assessing the capacity of natural infrastructure to increase water storage, reduce vulnerability to floods, and enhance resiliency to climate change

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $14,886 Total Non-Federal Funds: $29,774

Principal Investigators: Jamie McEvoy

Abstract: Climate change is projected to affect the quantity, quality, and timing of water availability in Montana. These projections have raised concerns about water storage capacity in many basins in the state. The 2015 Montana State Water Plan identifies the need for increased water storage and retention as “an important tool for meeting future demands and responding to climate change” (p. 4) (MT DNRC, 2015). Recognizing the role that natural infrastructure (i.e., riparian areas, floodplains, and wetlands) plays in slowing runoff and promoting groundwater recharge (i.e., water storage), this plan calls for exploration of using natural infrastructure to store and retain water for the benefit of water supplies and ecosystems. However, research is needed to quantify the natural storage capacity of particular basins. Additionally, for natural storage projects to be successful, there needs to be early engagement with various stakeholders to identify their perceptions and needs. This project will use the Musselshell River basin, which experienced unprecedented flooding in 2011 and 2014, as an initial case study for assessing the potential for natural water storage. The objectives of this project are three-fold: 1) assess the capacity of natural infrastructure to increase water storage, reduce flood losses, and enhance resiliency to climate change 2) quantify natural storage potential of the current and historic floodplain of the Musselshell River and 3) identify socio-political barriers and opportunities for restoring and enhancing natural infrastructure in the basin. This research will use quantitative, qualitative, and geospatial methods. The project includes four parts: A) create a river meanderbelt map to calculate floodplain loss overtime; B) develop an ecological model to simulate maximum water holding capacities unique to the Musselshell River’s floodplain soil profiles in order to quantifying the storage potential per square kilometer of the floodplain; C) Conduct semi-structured interviews with DNRC staff and water rights specialists to understand the policy and legal implications of natural water storage; and D) Conduct semi-structured interviews with riparian landowners and managers to assess perceptions of various restoration options and understand the barriers and incentives for restoring and enhancing natural infrastructure on their properties.