Water professionals can think about building resilience as a process of embracing and managing future uncertainty. Rather than seeking to predict which long-term stressor, drought, or other shock to plan for, I, along with other colleagues at RAND, help planners consider a wide range of “what if” scenarios. This robust decision making approach uses computer simulation models and scenario analysis to identify future threats, systematically tests management strategies against these scenarios, and uses data visualization and statistical techniques to highlight key trade-offs for planners and stakeholders. The resilience benefits are threefold.
First, it helps identify “no regrets” investments that perform well regardless of scenario. Second, it leads to adaptive strategies that are flexible and introduces new investments only when challenging conditions become likely. Finally, it can answer emerging questions and support conversations between planners and stakeholders during complex and difficult planning processes.
One example is the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study, whose robust decision making approach helped federal and state planners better understand the future threat from growing water demand and climate change.
Jordan Fischbach is a senior policy researcher and codirector of the Water and Climate Resilience Center at the RAND Corporation.
This commentary originally appeared on The Source on July 3, 2017. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.