The Importance of Snow Water Storage in Sustainable Water Management

The Importance of Snow Water Storage in Sustainable Water Management

Water managers around the globe are constantly looking for innovative ways to manage water resources effectively. In a recent study conducted by researchers at the Oregon State University College of Engineering, a new metric called snow water storage has been developed to provide a more holistic view of the water held in snowpacks. This metric, unlike traditional measurements, takes into account the cumulative sum of water in snow over time and space scales. This new approach allows water managers to make informed decisions about adjusting their infrastructure portfolio to match water supply with demand.

The researchers, David Hill and Christina Aragon, analyzed nearly four decades of snowpack data and found a significant 22% drop in the amount of water held annually in mountain snowpacks across the lower 48 states. This decline in water stored in snow is alarming, especially considering the important role that mountain snowpacks play in the nation’s water storage. Despite covering only 16% of the total area, mountain snowpacks store 72% of the water in snow form. Traditional measures like the April 1st snowpack may no longer provide a comprehensive view of water resources, making the new snow water storage metric crucial in understanding the water storage ability of snow.

Impact of Climate Change on Snowpacks

Climate change has exacerbated the variability of snowpacks, leading to a “feast or famine cycle of extremes” in terms of snow and rain patterns. Over the past 10 to 20 years, there has been a considerable decline in snowpacks, with regions like Oregon experiencing significant effects due to their reliance on snowpacks as a natural reservoir. As snowpacks become more unpredictable, the need for accurate monitoring and predicting of water resources becomes even more crucial. The snow water storage metric developed by Hill and Aragon provides a valuable tool for assessing different types of snowpacks and their water storage capacity.

The ability to apply the snow water storage metric to various types of snowpacks makes it particularly valuable in the face of increasing climate variability. As temperatures rise and snowfall patterns shift, water managers will need to adapt their strategies to ensure sustainable water management. By quantifying the amount of water stored in snow over time, this new metric offers a more objective way to gauge the reservoir storage aspect of snowpacks. From local to regional scales, users of water resources must balance demand with supply, and the timing of water release from snowpacks is critical in meeting this demand.

The development of the snow water storage metric represents a significant advancement in understanding the role of snowpacks in water management. With the increasing challenges posed by climate change, it is essential for water managers to have accurate and reliable tools to assess water resources. By incorporating this new metric into their planning and decision-making processes, water managers can take proactive steps towards ensuring the sustainable use of water in the face of changing environmental conditions.


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