Bless the Rains

Climate data can help forecast future water supplies and adjust distribution plans.

live in northern Wisconsin. I’m plenty familiar with snow and cold weather.

Freezing rain comes around once in a while, too. But until my local meteorologist explained how it happens on the late news the other night after an unpleasant day of weather, I really had no idea.

If you’re unaware, snow forms at a higher altitude and falls. On its way to the ground it passes through a warmer layer of air and melts, but then refreezes as it reaches the ground. Simple, but I’d never really given it much thought.

Precipitation has a significant impact on the work you do, both positive and negative, but I doubt many people give that much thought either. It funnels through your stormwater systems, causes combined sewer overflow and creates unnecessary treatment costs, but it also irrigates and replenishes surface water sources. It’s the latter that ties directly to a special feature in this month’s issue about a study that’s happening in Kansas, creating models to predict future water availability.             

Researchers at the University of Kansas School of Engineering are set to begin a two-year project aimed at creating models using projected climates to help state officials better allocate water. The research aims to expand current models that are largely based on data recorded during a 1950s drought in an effort to show different climate projections’ direct impact on evaporation and streamflow. Ideally it will help with future water allocation decisions in Kansas.

The project is localized to the central and eastern portions of Kansas and incorporates six river basins, 21 reservoirs, 51 inflows and 163 sources of consumptive water use. These new models will compare multiple emission scenarios along with responses from the land, ocean and atmosphere.

Though this work will focus on Kansas specifically, the strategy and end results may benefit municipalities across the country. One of the goals is to inspire municipalities to use climate data in planning for different scenarios, and to show other states and regions an approach for forecasting future water supplies and adjusting water distribution plans.

We talk often in MSW about the need to take a proactive approach to utility planning and improvement, and it’s hard to imagine a more proactive approach to planning for the future than this. Preparing allows you to respond rather than react.

While I learned a little something from that weather report I mentioned, forecasts are far from guarantees, especially the further out they range. You can plan for a sunny day if that’s what the forecast calls for, but you’d be a lot better off if you’re also prepared for rain. And since it’s impossible to know what the future holds, careful consideration of all the possibilities can make your utilities and communities stronger.

I hope you enjoy this month’s issue. 


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