Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015MT294B

Designing scenarios for hydrologic resilience in the Upper Missouri Headwaters with integrated ecosystem models

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-29
Total Federal Funds: $6,207 Total Non-Federal Funds: $48,535

Principal Investigators: Benjamin Poulter, Benjamin Poulter, Benjamin Poulter

Abstract: Water is the ecological currency of the West. Water limits the productivity of croplands, grasslands, and forests, creates habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, controls wildfire, insect and disease outbreaks, provides energy directly from hydropower, and indirectly for oil and gas extraction, and satisfies increasing demand from growing rural populations. Thus, the management of water resources and water allocation amongst these varied interests presents a complex policy challenge that is increasingly amplified by climate change (Norton et al., 2014). The concerns related to water management and climate change were most recently highlighted in the 2015 Montana State Water Plan (DNRC, 2015) where Basin Advisory Councils (BACs) unanimously acknowledged the need to be “better prepared” for climate change and drought in order for management agencies to continue to serve current and projected water demands. The results of the Montana State water planning process will soon be presented to the 2015 Montana Legislature, which will set the water management and water research agenda for the next decade. A closer look at the methodology of the State Water Plan highlights the importance of computer models as tools required to help understand and to quantify changes in water availability. Computer models provide a conceptual and technical framework to simulate the hydrologic budget of ecosystems and their response to climate change, yet advances are still required to help evaluate novel management scenarios and to facilitate stakeholder interests. For example, the current generation of hydrologic models tend to be either highly detailed, requiring expensive datasets to make simulations, or tend to be too generalized, and ineffective for evaluating new water management options. For example, highly detailed models may perform well for individual watersheds or specific systems, yet these approaches are unable to represent connections among watersheds that make up river basins. In contrast, the more generalized river basin models simplify terrestrial processes, or ignore small stream networks, preventing a full evaluation of management scenarios. We propose to develop a new intermediate-scale hydrologic modeling tool that will have the flexibility to combine a terrestrial ecosystem model with a stream and river network model to evaluate novel water-management decisions. The specific objectives are to: 1. Couple an existing ecosystem model with a stream network model for watersheds within the Upper Missouri Headwaters. 2. Evaluate unique management scenarios, designed to increase hydrologic resilience to climate change, in the context of fisheries habitat and enhanced water storage. The coupling of the ecosystem and stream network models will form part of the GEYSER project that is developing an Integrated Ecosystem Model for the Greater Yellowstone Region. The numerical dynamic global vegetation model, LPJ-GUESS, will represent the interactions between vegetation, hydrology, and disturbance, and principles of graph theory will direct the development of the fully coupled eco-hydrological model. Management scenarios for building hydrologic resilience and enhancing water storage, in development by the Wildlife Conservation Society, will provide the basis for evaluating mechanistic fish habitat models developed by the United States Geological Survey. This proposed research addresses several of the recommendations made in the Montana State Water Plan and creates an advanced tool to provide the basis for further water research.