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A Perspective on Nonstationarity and Water Management


  • Paper No. JAWRA-10-0053-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until six months from print publication.



Hirsch, Robert M., 2011. A Perspective on Nonstationarity and Water Management. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 47(3):436-446. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2011.00539.x

Abstract:  This essay offers some perspectives on climate-related nonstationarity and water resources. Hydrologists must not lose sight of the many sources of nonstationarity, recognizing that many of them may be of much greater magnitude than those that may arise from climate change. It is paradoxical that statistical and deterministic approaches give us better insights about changes in mean conditions than about the tails of probability distributions, and yet the tails are very important to water management. Another paradox is that it is difficult to distinguish between long-term hydrologic persistence and trend. Using very long hydrologic records is helpful in mitigating this problem, but does not guarantee success. Empirical approaches, using long-term hydrologic records, should be an important part of the portfolio of research being applied to understand the hydrologic response to climate change. An example presented here shows very mixed results for trends in the size of the annual floods, with some strong clusters of positive trends and a strong cluster of negative trends. The potential for nonstationarity highlights the importance of the continuity of hydrologic records, the need for repeated analysis of the data as the time series grow, and the need for a well-trained cadre of scientists and engineers, ready to interpret the data and use those analyses to help adjust the management of our water resources.