Stationarity Really, Most Sincerely Dead

Tom Beal has a story in the Arizona Daily Star that captures a couple of related realities one finds these days in the western water community.

One is that climate change is the real deal. It’s easy to go on quibbling about the attribution problem, but the Colorado River is mostly drier these days than it used to be. That’s the reality that water managers are grappling with, and it’s forcing them to confront the second reality: that stationarity – the idea that past is reasonable prologue – is fork-stuck-in-it-dead:

Stationarity, said U.S. Geological Survey senior scientist Julio Betancourt, allows you to predict future natural events “within a fluctuating but well-defined variability.”
That notion died, he said, with the realization that climate change makes the future unpredictable.
Sharon Megdal, who moderated the panel on the state’s water future, said she liked Yogi Berra’s definition: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Instead of variability around a stable mean, we have both a changing envelope of variability and an underlying trend in the mean.
Julio, who is both a terrific integrative scientist and an enormously articulate and effective advocate for his ideas (read my book to learn more about his work – it’s not too early to pre-order!) has been pushing this point recently, and the water community seems to increasingly get it.
The interesting thing here is that, at least in the Arizona water community, folks are getting serious about the conversation about what to do in the face of the loss of stationarity and the resulting likelihood that they’ve got less water to work with than they thought. I’m not so sure we’re there yet in the New Mexico conversation (thoughts, Inkstain readers?), but clearly the idea is now unambiguously on the table.
More on stationarity from Inkstain:


  1. I’ve worked with Julio Betancourt on numerous stories in the last decade. You’re description of him is spot on. I pay extra attention to everything he says.

  2. I read the Southwest Hydrology issue on the same subject and wondered: Why did any geologist ever think there was such a thing in the first place? There is no stationarity in the Quaternary geologic record. Only 11,000 years ago, global temperatures shot up several degrees C in a few decades. There never was any reason to think it would stop changing just because we invented agriculture.

  3. Pingback: Speed Blogging | Conservation Blog

Comments are closed.