In a thirsty Western United States that has become increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, rampant wildfires and years of unprecedented drought, those at the helm of the region’s water agencies are accelerating their plans to grapple with climate change.

“The Western United States — especially the 40 million people who use the Colorado River — we’re in the bullseye of climate change,” says Cynthia Campbell, water resource management advisor for the City of Phoenix. “This is not a conceptual conversation anymore. We’re in full-on adaptation.”

With that reality comes the need to plan around the future of water for the people and wildlife who call the Colorado River Basin home.

You can’t just plan for one future.” –Carly Jerla

But, says Carly Jerla, an operations research analyst for the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, “you can’t just plan for one future.”

As climate change casts its shadow over water resources in the Western U.S., water authorities must navigate uncertainty in the form of the many possible futures in front of them. Those futures almost certainly hold more of what climate change has already brought — rising temperatures, changes in precipitation, shifts in snowpack, longer and more severe droughts, more frequent flooding — plus people’s responses to those changes. Taken together, these fateful forecasts go into climate projections: models that explore an array of possible future climate conditions or scenarios.

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