The Limay River flows through the Northwestern Argentine Patagonia, a key source of water and hydropower.
The Limay River flows through the Northwestern Argentine Patagonia, a key source of water and hydropower. Steven dosRemedios / Flickr

Argentina’s Comahue region extends across multiple political jurisdictions and includes many demands on water. That means planning for future water allocation has to account for different potential scenarios regarding such variables as population growth, socio-economic development, and changes in agriculture and industry, plus climate change. And it has to be done in a way that people with potentially competing water interests find fair and credible.

In other words, it requires sophisticated technical tools and an inclusive, transparent process. For the past three years, experts from the Stockholm Environment Institute have been putting their skills and expertise to work on this task on a project called CLIMAGUA, working with hydrologists from the Universidad del Comahue and Universidad Nacional del Litoral. The project is managed by Fundación Bariloche and funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

“This is the first large-scale WEAP application development in Argentina,” notes Laura Forni, a staff scientist at SEI-US. “It could assist decision-makers in the management and planning of important basins in the Patagonia region that cover different jurisdictions.”

It’s also the kind of work that will become increasingly important as areas around the globe cope with increasing demands on water supplies that may be diminished by climate change.

The Comahue region

The Comahue region, in the Argentinean Patagonia, extends across two provinces, Neuquén and Rio Negro, and includes the Limay, Neuquén, and Río Negro basins. The water from these rivers goes to hydropower, farming, supplying homes, oil extraction and mining. These uses can conflict, such as when farmers need water released from dams for irrigation, but utilities want to store it for hydropower generation.

The Chocón Reservoir spillway, on the Limay River
The Chocón Reservoir spillway, on the Limay River. Dario Alpern / Wikimedia Commons.

The Chocón Reservoir spillway, on the Limay River. Dario Alpern / Wikimedia Commons.

“It is a complex system, with many sectors and objectives,” Forni says.

Hydrocarbon development has been driving substantial growth in recent years. While these demands are expected to continue increasing, climate change projections shows changes in precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures in the region over the coming decades. Increasing temperatures from climate change could also change the timing of peak flows into reservoirs, affecting hydropower and flood control.

Modelling amid uncertainty

WEAP can show how various water management options would meet a range of uses under different scenarios for climate, population growth and other variables. In Comahue, SEI used WEAP to explore water availability for different uses under different scenarios, and helped identify vulnerability “hot spots” that should receive priority support for adaptation.

Water resources representatives provided data for the model and helped verify results. Results from WEAP were presented using innovative visualizations that clearly show the implications of different management strategies on different objectives under different scenarios.

A schematic of the WEAP modelling analysis for the project.
A schematic of the WEAP modelling analysis for the project. Click to enlarge.

Moving forward

Preliminary results have shown that the most aggressive climate change projections could have significant potential effects on the region, but also that vulnerability can be reduced through such strategies as improving irrigation efficiency, waterproofing canals and building new water-resources infrastructure.

Researchers are hoping to get funding to continue refining the model, working on such challenges as better representing the urban sector, interaction of surface and groundwater, hydropower production and operation, and Andean hydrology.

“The platform serves as a solid base for addressing sector-specific challenges in an integrated way,” Forni says. This can help lead to adaptation plans that stand the best chance of meeting water management objectives.