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Casey Brown Teams with City of Santa Cruz to Model Its Future Water Supply in Face of Climate Change

Casey Brown

Casey Brown

The Santa Cruz Sentinel of California reported that the Santa Cruz Water Commission engaged UMass Provost Professor Casey Brown of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department to create a modeling tool to explore the ways that possible changes in climate might potentially impact the Santa Cruz water supply in the near and far future.

“We’re not in the business of predicting what the future holds in terms of climate,” as Brown told the Sentinel. “No one can do that. Instead, we design a model that is able to give us a comprehensive exploration of the possible climate futures.”

According to Sentinel writer Aric Sleeper, the modeling tool created by Brown at his Hydrosystems Research Group is called the Santa Cruz Climate Scenario Generator, which can examine the various outcomes that certain climate changes might have on the Santa Cruz water system.

As the Sentinel story said about Brown’s generator modeling, “Increases and decreases in precipitation, temperature, and water demand are variables that are changed and run through a model of the Santa Cruz water system, which creates a vulnerability analysis, so that Brown and the Water Commission can better identify what types of changes in the local climate may cause problematic issues in the water system over time.”

In July, Brown presented the findings of the approximately 40,000 simulations created by the generator at a Santa Cruz Water Commission meeting. One big takeaway from the simulations showed that multiyear reductions in precipitation have the largest impact on the water supply, while warmer temperatures have little impact on the water system.

However, Brown’s analysis also showed that the local water supply in Santa Cruz is vulnerable to interannual variability, or key fluctuations in weather patterns caused by climate change.

Brown’s ongoing work in his Hydrosystems Research Group at UMass Amherst set the stage for his modeling research for the city of Santa Cruz.

As Brown has explained about his research, “Our work improves the understanding of human-hydrologic systems so that they can be managed sustainably. Our projects provide insight for planning and adapting the design and operation of water resource systems for a future of change. Our research approach is broadly characterized as systems analysis, employing a decision scaling approach to evaluate climate change vulnerabilities and risks.”

Brown is also an adjunct associate research scientist at Columbia University. He has a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering Science from Harvard University. (November 2022)