IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

3.6 Adaptation: practices, options and constraints

3.6.1 The context for adaptation

Adaptation to changing conditions in water availability and demand has always been at the core of water management. Historically, water management has concentrated on meeting the increasing demand for water. Except where land-use change occurs, it has conventionally been assumed that the natural resource base is constant. Traditionally, hydrological design rules have been based on the assumption of stationary hydrology, tantamount to the principle that the past is the key to the future. This assumption is no longer valid. The current procedures for designing water-related infrastructures therefore have to be revised. Otherwise, systems would be over- or under-designed, resulting in either excessive costs or poor performance.

Changing to meet altered conditions and new ways of managing water are autonomous adaptations which are not deliberately designed to adjust with climate change. Drought-related stresses, flood events, water quality problems, and growing water demands are creating the impetus for both infrastructure investment and institutional changes in many parts of the world (e.g., Wilhite, 2000; Faruqui et al., 2001; Giansante et al., 2002; Galaz, 2005). On the other hand, planned adaptations take climate change specifically into account. In doing so, water planners need to recognise that it is not possible to resolve all uncertainties, so it would not be wise to base decisions on only one, or a few, climate model scenarios. Rather, making use of probabilistic assessments of future hydrological changes may allow planners to better evaluate risks and response options (Tebaldi et al., 2004, 2005, 2006; Dettinger, 2005).

Integrated Water Resources Management should be an instrument to explore adaptation measures to climate change, but so far is in its infancy. Successful integrated water management strategies include, among others: capturing society’s views, reshaping planning processes, coordinating land and water resources management, recognizing water quantity and quality linkages, conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater, protecting and restoring natural systems, and including consideration of climate change. In addition, integrated strategies explicitly address impediments to the flow of information. A fully integrated approach is not always needed but, rather, the appropriate scale for integration will depend on the extent to which it facilitates effective action in response to specific needs (Moench et al., 2003). In particular, an integrated approach to water management could help to resolve conflicts among competing water users. In several places in the western USA, water managers and various interest groups have been experimenting with methods to promote consensus-based decision making. These efforts include local watershed initiatives and state-led or federally-sponsored efforts to incorporate stakeholder involvement in planning processes (e.g., US Department of the Interior, 2005). Such initiatives can facilitate negotiations among competing interests to achieve mutually satisfactory problem-solving that considers a wide range of factors. In the case of large watersheds, such as the Colorado River Basin, these factors cross several time- and space-scales (Table 3.4).

Table 3.4. Cross-scale issues in the integrated water management of the Colorado River Basin (Pulwarty and Melis, 2001).

Temporal scale Issue  
Indeterminate Flow necessary to protect endangered species 
Long-term  Inter-basin allocation and allocation among basin states 
Decadal Upper basin delivery obligation 
Year Lake Powell fill obligations to achieve equalisation with Lake Mead storage 
Seasonal  Peak heating and cooling months 
Daily to monthly Flood control operations 
Hourly Western Area Power Administration’s power generation 
Spatial Scale   
Global Climate influences, Grand Canyon National Park 
Regional  Prior appropriation (e.g., Upper Colorado River Commission)  
State Different agreements on water marketing within and out of state water district 
Municipal and Communities  Watering schedules, treatment, domestic use 

Lately, some initiatives such as the Dialogue on Water and Climate (DWC) (see Box 3.2) have been launched in order to raise awareness of climate change adaptation in the water sector. The main conclusion out of the DWC initiative is that the dialogue model provides an important mechanism for developing adaptation strategies with stakeholders (Kabat and van Schaik, 2003).

Box 3.2. Lessons from the ‘Dialogue on Water and Climate’

  • The aim of the Dialogue on Water and Climate (DWC) was to raise awareness of climate implications in the water sector. The DWC initiated eighteen stakeholder dialogues, at the levels of a river basin (Lena, Aral Sea, Yellow River, San Pedro, San Juan, Thukela, Murray-Darling, and Nagoya), a nation (Netherlands and Bangladesh), and a region (Central America, Caribbean Islands, Small Valleys, West Africa, Southern Africa, Mediterranean, South Asia, South-east Asia, and Pacific Islands), to prepare for actions that reduce vulnerability to climate change. The Dialogues were located in both developed and developing countries and addressed a wide range of vulnerability issues related to water and climate. Participants included water professionals, community representatives, local and national governments, NGOs, and researchers.
  • The results have been substantial and the strong message going out of these Dialogues to governments, donors, and disaster relief agencies is that it is on the ground, in the river basins and in the communities, that adaptation actions have to be taken. The Dialogues in Bangladesh and the Small Valleys in Central America have shown that villagers are well aware that climate extremes are becoming more frequent and more intense. The Dialogues also showed that adaptation actions in Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Nagoya, Murray-Darling, and Small Valleys are under way. In other areas, adaptation actions are in the planning stages (Western Africa, Mekong) and others are still in the initial awareness-raising stages (Southern Africa, Aral Sea, Lena Basin).
  • The DWC demonstrated that the Dialogue model provides a promising mechanism for developing adaptation strategies with stakeholders.