A Low-to-No-Snow Future: Talking with Professor Tague

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Photo Courtesy of Melissa Kopka

Natalie Aymond

Contributing Writer

Christina (Naomi) Tague is an ecohydrologist professor at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). She has been involved with team research that surveys the arrival of a low-to-no-snow future and its implications on the environment. Additionally, this includes conversations about strategies to prevent and slow this arrival on a larger scale.  

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Dr. Tague elaborates on her role in this research as an ecohydrologist. Her work consists of using hydraulic models in which simulation systems are built to predict snow changes. In the paper on this research, a timeline was outlined in which we will begin to see a drastic decrease in snow precipitation due to an increase in global temperatures. 

From this, there will be earlier annual snowmelt and therefore, less available water in the summer month when it is in highest demand. On top of this, drought and fire numbers will continue to increase in frequency. Dr. Tague stresses that this research is especially important for the future as these predictions will need to be used to educate the general population on the incoming water crisis to give rise to awareness for and action on the issue. 

“You can tell people it is going to get two degrees warmer and they go, ‘Okay, but it was two degrees warmer yesterday and nothing fell apart.’ So, to translate what global climate change actually means and where it matters, like ‘why we should care,’ you have to convince people of that,” Tague said. 

When asked about her experience working with a team on these subjects, Dr. Tague outlined how this type of research truly is team-based work. Its level of complexity requires a larger skill set brought in by several scientists. Particularly, this applies to the area of approaching the measurement of snow, as getting the right answer is especially challenging. 

Tague commented on this experience saying, “There is no one person who can be an expert in the use of remote sensing to get snow, the use of hydrologic models to say how that translates to streamflow or the economic policy instruments like managing reservoirs […] so you have to work as a team because you don’t want a superficial understanding.” 

From these professors’ findings, there was extensive conversation about ways to adapt and strategize. Generally, a need for cross-collaboration between scientists and water managers has been outlined. However, specifically for Dr. Tague, one of the most important things she does is work with master students who go on to work for water agencies. Dr. Tague is giving these PhD students the training to use predictions to ask water agencies how they are going to manage their reservoirs differently and where their investments should be targeted.  

“Part of this is getting these agencies to hire and have the technical expertise on staff, to do the projections that they need to really integrate into planning […] Part of our goal with the paper is to have that out there as evidence when they go to the public to say, ‘We need to invest in this stuff,’” Tague comments. 

Of course, there will inevitably be financial pushback in implementing these policies; however, Dr. Tague envisions that demands for tangible change need to happen right after a crisis as these issues will come to the forefront. She notes that policymakers — who are politicians — respond heavily to public opinion.

It could be projected that, because these changes may rely heavily on economic contribution, the population may have to expect higher water prices or even to contribute through tax dollars. But, it is clear a crisis is coming and the group efforts of researchers to uncover and train for our future are making these facts harder to ignore. With these new findings, there can be a process to finding solutions in an educated and cooperative manner. There is hope that politicians, policymakers, water companies, and even the population at large will make serious leeway in respect to this detailed research.

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