Design in a Time of Uncertainty
By Rives Taylor, Principal, Global Resilience Research Lead
The Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid Lands (SERIDAS) project examines the future of ten engineered rivers in arid lands. It identifies challenges the rivers face and offers recommendations on how to respond. The project team asks: How sustainable are engineered rivers in arid lands? To find answers, the SERIDAS team of natural and social scientists studies current and future river conditions in these river basins worldwide—Nile, Euphrates-Tigris, Yellow, Murray-Darling, São Francisco, Limarí, Colorado, Rio Grande, and Júcar. All receive water from mountain snowpack or highland rainfall and then pass through large arid or semi-arid areas where river sediment has accumulated over time and created fertile soil. Irrigated agriculture has long been the life blood of these downstream areas. Over the course of the last century, multiple reservoirs and distribution networks were built that vastly increase the yield of irrigated agriculture. Our goal is to find out how food production, the well-being of basin populations and environmental flow will fare under the impacts of climate change/variation, reservoir sedimentation and population growth. We use this information to inform river management agencies and submit recommendations on policy adjustments.
The team met for its first workshop in 2014 to study current river conditions. The meeting was supported by the Mitchell Foundation for Sustainable Development. At our second workshop we developed methodology for projecting future river conditions. We met in Hanover, Germany, with support from the Volkswagen Foundation. This year, the team met in November for a workshop in Bellagio, Italy, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. The workshop had two objectives: 1) to review drafts of our work to date in the ten river basins; and 2) to develop policy recommendations to water management agencies on how to cope with future conditions. In addition to our river experts, the meeting was attended by specialists on climate change, hydrology, irrigation practices and sustainable development. Two individuals—one from Spain, the other one from Mexico—joined the team to comment on our work to date and recommend improvements. The results of the Bellagio meeting are important for completing work on our forthcoming book, Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid Lands. The book will be published by Cambridge University Press in their UNESCO Hydrology Series. The SERIDAS expects to submit the book manuscript by June 30, 2018. Learn more about SERIDAS and its team members by visiting the SERIDAS project page.