Solving very different challenges with the same tool

 Publisert 16.10.2015

While California is plagued by severe drought, Norway has experienced the quite opposite. Despite the widely different water challenges, CEDREN has a strong cooperation with the US branch of SEI.

The Philibrook Reservoir in the Feather River Basin is one of many drawn down reservoirs in California due to the severe drought. Photo: Bart Wickel.
The Philibrook Reservoir in the Feather River Basin is one of many drawn down reservoirs in California due to the severe drought. Photo: Bart Wickel.

There are many and big differences between drought-plagued California and wet Trondheim. We can still benefit from using the same tool to calculate available water resources and effects of various policies.

Earlier this month the leader of Stockholm Environment Institute’s (SEI) head office in California, David Purkey, visited Trondheim to discuss the ongoing cooperation with CEDREN and talk about new possible topics for cooperation.


Same software useful for very different challenges

During 25 years, SEI has developed the water evaluation and planning software WEAP. Today the software is applied in more than 170 countries with very different water challenges.

–  The software can be used for calculations of how water can be managed during periods of scarcity, but also to reduce risk of flooding, Purkey explains.

CEDREN use WEAP to calculate minimum flow requirements of water and other hydropower related challenges, and has applied WEAP in numerous cases.

–  WEAP is a well-recognized modelling tool with a component handling the basic hydrological processes, inter-linked with routines to allocate water for various human purposes. This makes it possible to analyze a number of future scenarios and the effects on the water resources, such as climate changes and increased use of water for irrigation and drinking water, CEDREN-researcher Tor Haakon Bakken explains.

He visited the California office as a guest researcher earlier this year, motivated by the world-class research in the area.

–   The water scarcity in the area, combined with excellent research and innovation, has led to the development of the most advanced and sophisticated solutions for better use of the water resources, he says.

Tor Haakon Bakken (left) standing next to David Purkey and other employees at the SEI head office in California during his stay as a guest researcher earlier this year.

Through the work of two Master’s students, WEAP has been adapted to one river basin in Turkey and one in Albania, where CEDREN has analyzed future changes in the water resources and the effect for all users, including hydropower producers.


The drought in California on the agenda

Bakken made sure that more than the CEDREN-researchers got the pleasure of meeting Purkey, who is a celebrity in his field. Thursday Purkey held an open lecture for both researchers and water resource students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

Despite the fact that his lecture started at 9:15 the day after the opening of the big student festival UKA, he managed to engage the crowd.

–   It is very interesting to hear him tell about the extreme water situation California is experiencing now. David Purkey is an influential person internationally in this field of science, and he works with these issues daily, Bakken says.

–  Over the next decades, more regions of the world will probably experience situations similar to the crisis California is currently going through, and it is stimulating to hear how California, with “the biggest thinkers and the biggest risk makers” as David expressed it, find their solutions, he continues.


El Niño brings hope

Purkey told the students about the complex history of the water system in a state where water is a limiting factor, before he gave the listeners an update on the serious drought California has experienced the last four years.

–  The reservoirs are very, very low. In some reservoirs, the water level is in danger of dropping below the dead pool storage, which is the level where water needs to be pumped out of the reservoir, if we do not get a good amount of water this winter, Purkey explains.

Purkey paints a brown picture of sunny California. The lawns are no longer green because people have to reduce their water usage, and the forests are brown and dry. His photo of a gardener literally painting the brown scorched grass with green paint triggered laughter among the crowd.

The water shortage has a major impact on the important agriculture in the state, which influences both the economy and the employment in California.
After four years of drought, the state is desperate for rain.

The weather phenomenon El Niño brings hope for California.

–  A strong El Niño is usually linked to more precipitation than normal, Purkey explains, but adds that several other factors also plays an important role.
Therefore, there is no guaranty that this year’s winter will put an end to the drought.


From hydrology to social and political processes

Purkey holds a Ph.D. in hydrology, but he has become more and more interested in social and political processes over the last years.

–   It is about how we as a society make decisions regarding water use. How can we best use modelling to inform the political processes? says Purkey.

David Purkey shares the output of an ensemble of model runs with stakeholders in the Yuba River Basin. Photo: Vishal Mehta.

Purkey finds common ground with CEDREN on this topic as well. Several CEDREN projects have had focus on policy and public engagement regarding renewable energy, most recently in the newly started project SusWater.

Let us hope Purkey’s visit in Trondheim sparks more cooperation between SEI and CEDREN.


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