Through the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI), the National Science Foundation (NSF) proposes to establish a network of Hydrologic Observatories, or natural laboratories as platforms for research in hydrologic and related sciences. As part of this network, the Sierra Nevada Hydrologic Observatory (SNHO) will facilitate research by developing new knowledge of hydrologic processes, building understanding of water cycles for California and the mountain west, and contributing to new tools for the management of stressed resources.
Explosive population growth and changing climate are combining to create supply-demand mismatches that threaten water supplies across the West. Collaborative approaches and market-based transfers can help minimize conflicts between demands for water for people, for cities, for farms, and for non-human habitat. However, as water becomes a more valuable commodity, more accurate information than is currently available will be needed to support better estimates of natural water reservoirs (e.g. snowpack, groundwater); more complete understanding of water and contaminant fluxes (e.g. evapotranspiration, groundwater recharge, erosion, mercury transport, salinity sources); improved hydrologic modeling (e.g. streamflow forecasting, water quality predictions); and better informed decision-making.
The proposed Sierra Nevada Hydrologic Observatory (SNHO) will provide infrastructure for advanced studies of the hydrology of the semi-arid west, and will provide the observational basis for a new generation of hydrological modeling and management tools. The SNHO represents an intersection of at least four factors on which to build a productive, high-impact hydrologic observatory: (i) compelling scientific need for new hydrologic understanding in the semi-arid West, (ii) urgent societal need, (iii) significant existing infrastructure and synergistic activities in regionally representative environments, and (iv) broad participation from both science and applications communities.