Western Water Assessment (WWA)

WWA Annual Report 2018
(Period of Performance: 6/1/17 - 5/31/18)

WWA Phase I Final Report
(Period of Performance: 2010 - 2016)

WWA Briefing Sheet (2017)

Principal Investigator
Lisa Dilling

Program Manager
Benét Duncan

Research Integration Specialists
Seth Arens
Jeff Lukas

Lead Researchers
William Travis
Noah Molotch
Ben Livneh
Joseph Barsugli

Affiliated Institution
University of Colorado Boulder

Dates Funded

WWA Website

Mission & Vision

WWA conducts innovative research and engagement aimed at effectively and efficiently incorporating knowledge into decision making, in order to advance the ability of regional and national entities to manage climate impacts. In addition to conducting user-driven research projects to explore emerging climate vulnerabilities, we produce synthesis and assessment products to make existing knowledge more accessible. By providing useful products for stakeholders in our region, we also serve to prototype, for NOAA, the delivery of regional climate services.


Stakeholders in the Intermountain West (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) have long faced challenges from climate variability and extreme events. In past few decades, the region has experienced clear indications of a changing climate while populations have grown dramatically, putting more pressure on climate-sensitive resources and ecosystem services. Projections of future climate suggest that the climate challenges of the past will become more acute. We work with water resource managers, ecosystem managers, natural hazard planners, and other decision makers to understand, anticipate, and prepare for these challenges.

Building Partnerships

WWA’s work is inherently collaborative, drawing from the interests and insights of a diverse group of stakeholders, researchers, and other climate service providers, including:

  • University and Federal climate researchers in our region
  • State and regional climate centers
  • DOI Climate Science Centers and USDA Regional Climate Hubs
  • NOAA service providers for weather, climate and streamflow forecasting, and drought monitoring and preparedness
  • Local, state, and federal water resource managers
  • Public lands and ecosystem managers
  • Natural hazard planners
  • Non-governmental organizations

Selected Recent and Ongoing Projects

Drivers of Adaptation: A Comparative Analysis of Local Decision Making in the American West
Preparation for weather and climate-related hazards at the municipal scale may serve as a proxy for understanding drivers of adaptation to future climate change. Accordingly, this project investigated how and why decision makers in 60 cities and large towns in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming prepare for and respond to weather and climate-related risk and hazards, such as blizzards, tornadoes, and floods.

Water, Energy, and Climate Change: Freshwater Use by Power Plants in the United States
This project seeks to better understand the impacts of electricity generation on freshwater resources in a warming world. Particular attention has been paid to the impacts of shifts in water resources on national and regional electricity generation.

Update of the Update of the Climate Change in Colorado report report
WWA comprehensively updated and expanded their well-received 2008 Climate Change in Colorado report, co-produced with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The report synthesized the best available climate science relevant to the state’s water resources.

Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study
Responding to a directive from the State Legislature, the Colorado Energy Office commissioned WWA, along with researchers from Colorado State University, to conduct a study providing an overview of the key vulnerabilities that climate change and climate vulnerability will pose for Colorado's economy and resources.

Snowmelt Perturbations and Water Supply Forecast Errors
This collaborative effort among WWA researchers and operational forecasters at the NOAA Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) used a suite of modeling and observation techniques to better understand drivers of snow accumulation and melt in the Upper Colorado River Basin, with the ultimate goal of improving CBRFC forecasts.

Building Climate Science into Land and Water Conservation Planning and Decision-making in the American Southwest
This project seeks to integrate climate science into conservation adaptation planning and actions by The Nature Conservancy and its partners in Colorado and the Southwest. One main thread has focused on evaluating and improving methodologies for developing “actionable climate scenarios” from climate model projections to drive adaptation planning.

Climate Adaptation Guidance for Salt Lake City Public Utilities
This project entails a progression of activities to assess climate change vulnerability and support adaptation planning for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLCDPU). Ongoing research is incorporating downscaled climate projections into more sophisticated water supply and demand scenarios, to evaluate a range of possible future impacts to water supply to assist in defining low-regrets management strategies.

Evaluation of Stakeholder-Oriented Paleohydrology
The Wasatch Dendroclimatology Research Group (WADR) led by Utah State University researchers is developing proxy hydrology records from tree rings for Wasatch Front creeks in order to provide water managers with a longer period of record to aid in planning. WWA is supporting, tracking, and evaluating this effort to gain insights into the challenges, capabilities, and limitations in the incorporation of tree-ring data into planning.

Evaluation of NIDIS Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Early Warning System
This project entails a comprehensive evaluation of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Early Warning System (UCRB DEWS). The evaluation instruments were designed to be transferrable to other DEWS locations and programs.

Decision Support Tools

  • Intermountain West Climate Dashboard - The Intermountain West Climate Dashboard displays 29 climate and water information graphics for our region, covering recent and current precipitation, snowpack, drought, streamflow, reservoir, and ENSO conditions, and climate and ENSO forecasts. These graphics are served directly from their providers so that they are automatically updated in the Dashboard as often as the respective provider updates them. Briefings are also posted monthly to summarize the current conditions and forecasts, and provide additional interpretation.
  • Climate Risk Analysis Group (CRAG) - Decision Models - Adaptation to climate variability and climate change requires that decisions be made in the face of uncertainty, and decision models can help resource managers explore options, risks, and trade-offs. WWA’s Climate Risk Analysis Group (CRAG) is developing a set of decision analysis models aimed at understanding, and simulating, the decision process for responding to climate risk among resource managers such as farmers, ranchers, conservationists and others.
  • Preparing Hydro-climate Inputs for Climate Change in Water Resource Planning - WWA collaborated with the US Bureau of Reclamation, the COMET program at UCAR, and others to help produce an online learning module entitled "Preparing Hydro-climate Inputs for Climate Change in Water Resource Planning." This module is part of a broader pilot effort aimed at helping guide analysts through the process of quantitatively assessing climate change impacts in water resource planning.
  • TreeFlow – Streamflow Reconstructions from Tree Rings - TreeFlow is a comprehensive web resource on tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow and climate for the western US. While the primary users of streamflow reconstructions are water resource planners, people in many other sectors and disciplines may find the data useful. TreeFlow was developed as a collaboration between WWA and CLIMAS. The TreeFlow website is currently housed on a server at the University of Arizona and maintained by CLIMAS.

Other WWA Resources

  • WWA on Facebook - WWA’s Facebook page connects with stakeholders and interested parties. The page is regularly updated with items about WWA research and related news.
  • WWA on Twitter - A Twitter account for sharing WWA research and related news.
  • WWA Webinars - An archive of occasional webinars that feature ongoing WWA research and other climate-related issues for the region.



Dr. Chelsea Combest-Friedman
Social Scientist, Program Director (Acting)
P: (301) 734-1240

Caitlin Simpson
Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1251

Dr. Ariela Zycherman
Social Scientist, Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1244

Sean Bath*
Program Specialist (UCAR)
P: (301) 734-1294


Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. 


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