Central Ohio Planners Prepare For Climate Change

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Sluice gates allow some water to overflow Hoover Dam in Northeast Franklin County. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is developing a new climate change model to help predict future water supply for Central Ohio
Sluice gates allow some water to overflow Hoover Dam in Northeast Franklin County. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is developing a new climate change model to help predict future water supply for Central Ohio

Central Ohio is preparing for the effects of long-term climate change. The regional planning agency is using available weather and geologic data in a bid to manage and predict future water supply. But, the new climate model comes at a cost.

Most of Central Ohio’s water supply, 85%, comes from man-made reservoirs, like this one behind me along Big Walnut Creek. The reservoirs and dams on along the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and Alum and Big Walnut Creeks are managed for both flood control and water supply. Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission spokesman David Rutter says the agency is looking at effects of possible climate change in what’s called the Upper Scioto River Watershed.

“The big premise that we’re working on, we’re not really worried about what’s causing climate change within this study. The focus here is a recognition it’s changing, whether it’s caused by people or just a natural fluctuation. But it’s changing and that is going to change how our water supply works.” Rutter says.

Rutter says the commission is using past stream and river flow data from the United States Geological Survey to measure patterns of precipitation in the region. But is the data predictive?

Q) Can you get enough accurate data to make plausible predictions about run-off?

Rutter: “The current models, what they’re predicting for our area is really an increase in annual precipitation. But that it’s going to come in more intense rain events. It’s going to come much more seasonally, seasonably. So, we’ll look at wetter winter springs and hotter, drier summers.”

National Weather Service data shows Central Ohio had the wettest year on record in 2011, followed by a serious drought in 2012. State climatologist Jeffrey Rogers says there is evidence of more extremes in recent years, more precipitation, hotter temperatures. But, he says models are not always predictive.

“The current changes in Ohio precipitation or the current situation in Ohio precipitation is not what the climate models called for in the future. For example, the future calls for extremely dry summers. But, currently even though it’s not getting particularly wet during summer we are in an upward trend.”

And, more rain during summer months could force changes in water management practices that are not forecast by a climate change model. The commission’s study will cost $1.3 million dollars. It’s funded in part by the City Columbus, Delco Water, The Ohio Water Development Authority and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

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