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Disturbances and Fluxes Team
Many of the pressing issues facing Wyoming and the intermountain West center on understanding how water moves, where it goes, and how it responds to natural and manmade disturbances. A major challenge for water resource management is optimizing water allocation in a changing world where stakeholders have diverse and often conflicting needs. To meet this challenge, water managers need information that minimizes uncertainty and new tools to guide allocation decisions. Managers must know proportional inputs from precipitation, snowmelt, patterns of aquifer recharge and the effects of local or distant disturbances; yet these factors are difficult to quantify on watershed scales, particularly in remote, but crucial, high-altitude snowfields.
Earth systems in the intermountain West are increasingly prone to disturbances from changes in climate, land management, and tree mortality due to fire and other factors. For example, Wyoming is in the midst of an oil and gas development boom, with tens of thousands of wells emplaced over the past decade. Although hydrologic impacts of individual wells may be minor, the cumulative effects of thousands of acres of surface disturbance, emplacement of infrastructure, and discharge of produced water are altering hydrological systems throughout the state. Predicting impacts of these activities on water distribution will allow for productive and informative planning regionally and nationally.