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Decision-making by water managers despite climate uncertainty

posted on 2019-03-19, 09:20 authored by Robert WilbyRobert Wilby, Conor Murphy
Some of the most profound impacts of climate variability and change are expected in the water sector. These include more frequent, severe, and persistent droughts; more frequent, widespread, and extreme floods; more episodic and harmful water pollution episodes. Coping with more variable water supplies alongside rising demand will involve institutional reform, new infrastructure, adjustments to operations, and water demand management. A smarter, decision-led approach to deploying climate information in water management will also be required. This chapter begins with an overview of analytical frameworks for assessing and adapting water resource systems to uncertain climate threats and opportunities. It then gives examples of the diverse sources of information that are being accessed by some water managers to establish plausible ranges of climate change as a basis for decision-making. Examples from Denver, Colorado, and Dublin, Republic of Ireland show how narratives of future system changes and historical data can help test the efficacy of decisions under uncertainty. These two case studies demonstrate how early dialogue and information exchange among practitioners and scientists are fundamental to adaptation planning. In both places, unconventional sources of climate risk information were used to more rigorously stress test water management and planning assumptions. The preferred adaptation decision frameworks were dynamic, iterative, and open-ended. The chapter closes by acknowledging that further development of the decision-making approaches described herein may be needed to evaluate mixtures of adaptation options across multiple sectors.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment

Published in

The Oxford Handbook of Planning for Climate Change Hazards


1 - 1 (34)


WILBY, R.L. and MURPHY, C., 2019. Decision-making by water managers despite climate uncertainty. IN: Pfeffer, W.T., Smith, J.B. and Ebi, K.L. (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Planning for Climate Change Hazards. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.1-34.


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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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