Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015SC99B

Effect of Climate and Land Use Change on Water Availability for the Savannah River Basin

Institute: South Carolina
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $24,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $48,000

Principal Investigators: Ashok Mishra

Abstract: Though rivers play an important role in the socio-economic development of the region, they ignore geo-political boundaries and the increasing competition over water resources, which can trigger conflict between countries and states. Climatic and environmental changes and growing water demands between states that share trans-boundary rivers have exacerbated this competition over these finite resources. The Savannah River which serves three different states (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) is also likely to be the subject of future trans-boundary disputes caused by climate and land use change as well as growing water demands. During the last decade the Savannah River basin was among the hardest-hit areas affected by drought in the southeastern US. Reduced rainfall triggered severe drought conditions that began in early 2006, which in turn dropped reservoir levels faster than any previous drought on record. This situation is only likely to worsen because the water is shared by these three states, each of which have their increasingly water scarcity issues. This became evident in 2007, when South Carolina brought suit against North Carolina in the U.S. Supreme Court over the approved interbasin transfer of 13 million gallons per day. The PI proposes to use a common physical frame (hydrologic model) to physically quantify the possible impact of climate, land use and management practices on the water availability of Savannah River basin. The objective of this project is therefore twofold: (1) We will investigate the hydro-climatic trend, and the variability and uncertainty in the Savannah River basin and its potential implication on the water availability in the region. This is extremely useful as Savannah River is subject to different climatic patterns as flowing through different states. We will attempt to determine: (a) If rainfall deficits occur simultaneously throughout the (NC, SC and GA) basin (b) Which parts of the basin are more subject to a decrease in precipitation and increase in evaporation pattern; (c) If summer precipitation decreased during last decades in the sub-basins, which in turn resulted in decrease runoff into the Hartwell reservoir. (2) We will seek to understand how climate change and land use management practices has affected the availability of surface water at the subbasin level within the Savannah River basin. Using a hydrologic model, a water availability index will be developed to determine water availability in the region. The purpose of this index is to (a) translate this hydro-climatic information to the decision makers; and (b) to identify hot spots, which are likely to be vulnerable to future water scarcities. The project outcomes will provide information for understanding the status of water availability for 21st century water management. Moreover, the model results will be distributed to water resource managers who are coping with water scarcity currently and will likely do so in the future. Research results will also directly benefit University researchers in all three states, the South Carolina Water Resources Center and USGS through collaborative activity which will educate both professionals and the general public on issues of water management while increasing overall public awareness. Results will also be used to develop cost-effective strategies to provide water availability information to Congress and the public. Also, the outcomes of the model will serve as an educational and research tool to convey to undergraduate and graduate students how climate changes affects the water availability in the increasing stressed Savannah River basin.