Description: Brigham Young University is working with Utah State University and the Bureau of Reclamation to better predict and assess periods of precipitation and drought in the Wasatch Range Metropolitan Area.
Start: September 19, 2013
End: September 18, 2015
- Sponsor: Utah State University (Bureau of Reclamation)
- Principal Investigator: Matthew Bekker
- Website: http://sourthernrockieslcc.org/
Challenges for water resource managers include balancing the yearly water supply versus demand for water, being mindful of other natural resources, land-use, the impact of water use on invasive and protected species, and climate change. Creating a conservation plan draws heavily on an area’s specific climate history, as well as making projections of future weather conditions. While weather prediction systems for static climates have improved in recent years, the climate in the intermountain west varies too much to rely on these predictions. Rather, abnormal climate fluctuations seem to be increasingly present in the intermountain area, making long-term water planning extremely difficult.
The United States’ Bureau of Reclamation has teamed with other partners in the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SRLCC) to develop and implement modern conservation practices that will minimize the impact of drought seasons. The SRLCC works alongside water districts, nonprofit organizations, tribes, and universities to help further these projects. Dr. Matthew Bekker from the Department of Geography is collecting climate data to inform future water planning and weather prediction. Dr. Bekker’s team is focusing on the Intermountain West (stretching from the Cascade-Sierra ranges and Rocky Mountain), but his findings will also influence surrounding areas, such as the Colorado River.
Dr. Bekker’s team, in partnership with Utah State University, has two major areas of interest for this project. The first stage is analyzing tree rings from major watershed regions of the Intermountain West— otherwise described as the network of major rivers and their drainage area between the Cascade-Sierra Mountain range and the Rocky Mountains. Tree ring data is highly informative regarding the characteristics of the surrounding environments and their change over time. The width of each ring shows the tree’s growth rate over that year, decided by weather and atmosphere, and the neighboring plants that are competing for resources. Because the evolution of the climate history will help anticipate future climate changes, Bekker’s team has developed a high-resolution dataset that spans 300 years into the past by using thousands of tree core samples, and eventually will expand even farther back. This information is also compared to other sources, such as soil moisture data and recorded temperatures, and will become the basis for measuring drought severity. And as they collect information, they are finding, for future reference, optimal locations and tree species that quickly signal climate conditions.
The second goal is to use natural methods to increase water flow efficiency. Projects will be taken on to maximize the efficiency and health of watersheds, while still keeping these restorations as natural as possible. Examples of this are rebuilding collapsed stream banks so that water can flow easily, and avoiding using dams. This team is the first to implement stream restorations in the Wasatch Range Metropolitan Area. The Great Salt Lake will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of these methods, as its water level provides an indicator of climate conditions (drought, flood, and rainfall), with the researchers creating an index of the annual yield of the three major rivers (Bear River, Weber River, and Jordan/Provo River) that feed into the Salt Lake.
While much has been done in the broader field of weather predictions and water management, this research provides an in-depth analysis of Utah and its surrounding climate. This analysis will inform long-term water resource management and influence local and state environmental legislation that is best suited to Utah’s unique weather patterns. Additionally, hydrologic indices will be created to track the effectiveness of the restoration of natural watersheds. The combination of all these efforts will increase water availability and maximize water health, a marked benefit for Utah residents.