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Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 1: National Trends and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson and Martin W. Doyle

Most major rivers in the United States are managed by a system of reservoirs; many of which were built more than a half century ago. These reservoirs were designed based on environmental, societal, and regulatory assumptions at the time of construction. Since then, we have learned that climate is not stationary, population growth is being decoupled from energy needs and water demand, and new regulations (such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act) affect how river systems are managed. This study explores changing environmental, societal, and regulatory conditions relevant to the design and operation of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs across the conterminous United States. Results demonstrate large geographic variability in how these conditions have changed over time. In the south‐western United States, there is an amplified trend towards drier conditions and less reservoir flexibility with warmer temperatures, less precipitation, high sedimentation rates, and large population growth. In the north‐eastern United States, the impacts of increased temperature on reservoirs may be masked by greater precipitation and lower water demand. Environmental, societal, and regulatory changes can reduce the flexibility of reservoir operations and, in some instances, make it challenging for the reservoir to meet its intended purpose as designed decades ago. This study is the first step towards formalizing a process for monitoring broad trends relevant to water resources management for the purpose of moving towards adaptation of infrastructure. An interactive tool was developed for each condition: https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/reservoir-national-trends/

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Publications

Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 2: Expected Compared With Experienced Conditions at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson, Mary Tchamkina, and Martin W. Doyle

Reservoirs are critical infrastructure typically built to function as designed for 50 to 100 years. The majority of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs are more than 50 years old. The environmental, societal, and regulatory conditions surrounding the reservoir, that is, the reservoir's expected conditions, shaped its design. Many of these expectations assumed a future similar to the past. However, recent decades have experienced warming climates, cyclical changes in precipitation, the introduction of new regulations, and populations concentrating in urban environments. The design documents for nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were obtained to compare the expected conditions when reservoirs were authorized with the conditions experienced since the reservoir began operating. In some instances, we found large differences between expectations and reality. Average precipitation at Philpott, North Carolina was 15% less than expected whereas the sedimentation rate at Redmond, Kansas was twice the expected rate. Reservoirs can adapt to changing conditions by updating water control plans, which has occurred at five of these reservoirs in the last decade. Reallocations are sometimes needed to address more significant changes. For example, Redmond has reallocated storage space due to higher than expected sedimentation, and Falls, North Carolina is seeking reallocation due to higher than expected population growth and water demand. As conditions change, controversies and litigation around Corps reservoir management will likely continue. This highlights the importance of clearly documenting changing conditions through consistent and ongoing data collection and analysis to facilitate adapting reservoir operations in a timely manner, thereby minimizing controversy. An interactive tool was developed for each condition: https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/reservoir-comparison/

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Publications

The Financial and Environmental Risks of In Lieu Fee Programs for Compensatory Mitigation

Authors: Martin W. Doyle

This is a review of a sample of In Lieu Fee (ILF) Programs through an analysis of general incentives created by the ILF Program model, and through drawing on a small sample of ILF Programs as case studies. This review focuses on the incentives created by ILF Programs as a mechanism of compensatory mitigation; while other forms of compensatory mitigation—permittee-responsible mitigation and mitigation banking—are not without their problems, there are intrinsic financial and environmental risks that are unique to ILF Programs. The insights gained from this limited review also demonstrate the need for a systematic review of ILF Programs across the U.S., particularly (a) consistency of CWA ILF Programs since the implementation of the 2008 Mitigation Rule, and (b) emerging ESA ILF Programs and their divergence from best practice principles present in the 2008 Mitigation Rule.

Publications

West Africa's Coastal Bottom Trawl Fishery: Initial Examination of a Trade in Fishing Services

Authors: John Virdin, Mimako Kobayashi, Stephen Akester, Tibor Vegh, and Stephen Cunningham

Many states attempt to increase the economic benefits generated from their fish resources through foreign fishing arrangements that can be characterized as trades in fishing services. This paper provides a first assessment of the net economic benefits in a static analysis from one of the oldest such arrangements in West Africa: the coastal bottom trawl fishery. Focusing on the coastal states of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the total resource rent (RR) generated by foreign fishing in 2015 was estimated and then decomposed for the two participants in the trade: the coastal states (RRCS) and the foreign companies (RRFC). The implications from this review are that significant trades are occurring and even increasing without the minimum data required for West African coastal states to adequately evaluate the terms of trade, nor their sustainability.

Publications

Reaching Watershed Scale Through Cooperation and Integration

Authors: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Aspen Institute

"Reaching Watershed Scale Through Cooperation and Integration" summarizes the Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum discussions of May-June 2018. The forum explored how integration could address the mismatch between what has traditionally been local solutions for local water issues and emerging water challenges that impact large geographic regions, multiple sectors, and different community functions. Integration is intended to synergistically combine efforts and resources to create benefits that could not have been individually achieved. The forum explored the opportunities and challenges to integration within and between water sectors, identifying common elements for success.

Publications

Cross-Discipline Evidence Principles for Sustainability Policy

Authors : Edward T. Game, Heather Tallis, Lydia Olander, Steven M. Alexander, Jonah Busch, Nancy Cartwright, Elizabeth L. Kalies, Yuta J. Masuda, Anne-Christine Mupepele, Jiangxiao Qiu, Andrew Rooney, Erin Sills, and William J. Sutherland

Social and environmental systems are linked and, as this relationship becomes ever more apparent, governments, communities and organizations are increasingly faced with, and focused on, problems that are complex, wicked and transgress traditional disciplinary boundaries. This article in the journal Nature Sustainability suggests that evidence-based approaches to solve these complex multi-disciplinary challenges must draw on knowledge from the environment, development, and health domains. To address barriers to the consideration of evidence across domains, this paper develops an approach to evidence assessment that is broader and less hierarchical than the standards often applied within disciplines.

Publications

Addressing Declining Appropriations for Bureau of Reclamation Infrastructure: Policies Needed for Enabling Private Finance

Authors: Martin W. Doyle

Western water infrastructure was funded in the early and mid‐20th Century with federal financing through the Bureau of Reclamation. Over the last 30 years, federal financing has been less forthcoming, which has been commensurate with an increase in the need for financing rehabilitation and replacement of western irrigation infrastructure. This article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association suggests that if the Office of Management and Budget changed its policies for private partnerships or loan guarantees, private capital could play an important role in recapitalizing aging Reclamation infrastructure.

Publications

Leveraging Big Data Towards Functionally-Based, Catchment Scale Restoration Prioritization

Authors: John P. Lovett, Jonathan M. Duncan, Lindsey S. Smart, John P. Fay, Lydia P. Olander, Dean L. Urban, Nancy Daly, Jamie Blackwell, Anne B. Hoos, Ana María García, Lawrence E. Band

To address limitations to stream and wetland restoration projects, there is a critical need for a functionally-based, high-resolution restoration priority system that can be implemented at broad spatial scales to maximize ecological benefits. This article in the journal Environmental Management describes the River Basin Restoration Prioritization tool developed in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to incorporate data models into a catchment scale restoration prioritization framework. It is designed specifically as a state-wide screening tool that assesses hydrologic, water quality, and aquatic habitat quality conditions with peak flood flow, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and aquatic species distribution models. Although the application of the tool in this analysis is for the state of North Carolina, the methodology and model datasets are readily applicable to other states or regions to assess a large volume of data to better inform restoration choices.

Publications

The Value of Water Information: Overcoming the Global Data Drought

Authors: Albert Cho, Alex Fischer, Martin Doyle, Marc Levy, Paola Kim-Blanco, and Randolf Webb

This paper is a call to action for data users, data providers, and global decision makers concerned about water resources, climate resilience, and sustainable development. It provides an overview of hydrological monitoring systems and explains the importance of public water data to national governance, resource management, planning, and efforts to achieve global objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Publications

A Spatially-Resolved Inventory Analysis of the Water Consumed by the Coal-to-Gas Transition of Pennsylvania

Authors: Sarah Jordaan, Lauren Patterson, Laura Diaz Anadon

In the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Lauren Patterson and her co-authors look at changes in water consumption related to transitions from coal to natural gas in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2012. The study provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at a watershed level for both extraction of the resources to the generation of electricity with coal and natural gas.

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