Science and decision making: Water management and tree-ring data in the western United States

Jennifer L. Rice, Connie A. Woodhouse, Jeffrey J. Lukas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Growing populations, limited resources, and sustained drought are placing increased pressure on already over-allocated water supplies in the western United States, prompting some water managers to seek out and utilize new forms of climate data in their planning efforts. One source of information that is now being considered by water resource management is extended hydrologic records from tree-ring data. Scientists with the Western Water Assessment (WWA) have been providing reconstructions of streamflow (i.e., paleoclimate data) to water managers in Colorado and other western states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming), and presenting technical workshops explaining the applications of tree-ring data for water management for the past eight years. Little is known, however, about what has resulted from these engagements between scientists and water managers. Using in-depth interviews and a survey questionnaire, we attempt to address this lack of information by examining the outcomes of the interactions between WWA scientists and western water managers to better understand how paleoclimate data has been translated to water resource management. This assessment includes an analysis of what prompts water managers to seek out tree-ring data, how paleoclimate data are utilized by water managers in both quantitative and qualitative ways, and how tree-ring data are interpreted in the context of organization mandates and histories. We situate this study within a framework that examines the coproduction of science and policy, where scientists and resource managers collectively define and examine research and planning needs, the activities of which are embedded within wider social and political contexts. These findings have broader applications for understanding science-policy interactions related to climate and climate change in resource management, and point to the potential benefits of reflexive interactions of scientists and decision makers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1248-1259
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009


  • Coproduction
  • Paleohydrology
  • Tree-rings
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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