Water resources and climate change adaptation: An economist's perspective

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 10:30 am - 10:30 am EDT

The Water Institute Lecture Series continues with Dr. Sheila Olmstead, Associate Professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin and Visiting Fellow, Resources for the Future. 

Climate change will affect both the long-term availability and the short-term variability of water resources in many regions; these impacts are already manifest in some places, through increased frequency and magnitude of droughts and floods, duration of accumulated snowpack, changes in soil moisture and runoff. These physical impacts are uncertain, particularly at fine spatial scales, but societies’ likely behavioral responses to these shifts in hydrological regimes are even more uncertain. Ultimately, it is the combination of physical impacts and behavioral responses that will determine the economic impacts of the changing global climate. Some behavioral responses are potentially adaptive, and others maladaptive. For example, dams and reservoirs may be constructed to reduce vulnerability to these changes, but these projects could be adaptive locally, and maladaptive for downstream communities sharing a river. Water markets and efficient pricing could move water from low-valued to high-valued uses as the climate changes, mitigating the impacts of increased scarcity in some regions, but little is known about how well these institutions can serve this function, since water is rarely traded in markets.

Olmstead will draw on her own recent research and that of others to discuss the potential role of water prices and markets, infrastructure projects, and transboundary water treaties in mediating the economic impacts of the changing global climate.

This lecture will also be available via webcast.