Environmental Protection

Model Estimates Effects of Climate Change on Urban Water Supply

University of Adelaide water engineering researchers have developed a model to estimate potential urban water supply shortfalls under a range of climate change scenarios.

University of Adelaide water engineering researchers have developed a model to estimate potential urban water supply shortfalls under a range of climate change scenarios.

The model developed by Ph.D. candidate Fiona Paton, with supervisors professor Graeme Dandy and professor Holger Maier, should help water-supply managers plan for future water security despite the uncertainty surrounding the effects of climate change.

“Urban water supply is closely linked with climate variables, so climate change is expected to have a major impact on urban water security,” Paton said. “Rainfall is obviously particularly important in determining water supply, but there is considerable uncertainty about how rainfall patterns will be affected by climate change.”

The researchers have developed a method to incorporate rainfall projections under a range of possible climate change scenarios into an urban water supply model. The model makes use of multiple probability-based daily rainfall sequences combined with historical rainfall data.

“Water-supply managers are struggling to revise future water plans as they seek to take into account the likely impacts of climate change on future water security,” Paton said. “This is made more difficult by lack of agreement surrounding various global climate models and emissions scenarios, as well as the need to balance various conflicting objectives of water supply system planning. We hope this model will help water managers estimate some of the climate change effects on supply security.”

In the paper “Sensitivity of Urban Water Security based on various global circulation models and emission scenarios,” the researchers applied their new approach to Adelaide’s Southern water supply system to the year 2100 in a case study including alternative water sources. This research won the best paper award at the recent Engineers Australia’s ‘Practical Responses to Climate Change’ conference.

The future Adelaide supply system includes reservoirs fed from catchments, water pumped from the River Murray, household rainwater tanks, stormwater reuse schemes and the desalination plant.

The researchers, who are all part of the eWater Cooperative Research Center, said that recent moves toward diversification of water sources and demand management are commendable but there is a need for a more-rigorous scientific approach as climate change further threatens supplies.


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