Frequently Asked Questions
What was the purpose of the Water Sustainability and Climate Project?
The WSC project was an investigation of the social and environmental changes that affect freshwater resources in the Yahara Watershed. More specifically, the research team was interested in how freshwater and the many related natural benefits people depend on—such as food production, flood control, lake water clarity, and recreation—will be impacted as our cities and towns, farmland, natural areas, climate, policies, and behaviors change over the next 60 years. Understanding these interactions can bring to light opportunities and challenges to the resilience of the region’s communities and ecosystems.
Why is this research important?
Freshwater is central to the cultural, economic, and physical well-being of the people who live in the Yahara Watershed. Understanding how the region’s lakes, waterways, and groundwater could be affected by social and environmental change will enable more informed decisions for ensuring the sustainability of the region’s freshwater resources and, ultimately, quality of life.
Why was the Yahara Watershed an appropriate place to do this research?
The Yahara is an ideal place to investigate the impacts of social and ecological change on freshwater because of the coalescence of related challenges and opportunities: the coexistence of agriculture and urban life, the strong position of the region’s lakes within its cultural identity, the persistence of water quality and flooding problems, and a wealth of previous research and community engagement.
Also, the watershed is representative of other places in the Upper Midwest and, thus, the relevance and benefits of WSC’s research will extend beyond the region.
What were the project's important findings?
The video series "Changes and Choices in the Yahara" summarizes the key messages from our six research areas. You can also learn about our findings by reading our news stories and research briefs. Our publications library has the full set of studies from the project.
What is Yahara 2070?
Yahara 2070 is one piece of the entire WSC project. It entails a set of four scenarios about the Yahara Watershed in the year 2070, which are based on community input and rigorous scientific methodology. Through stories, computer modeling, artwork, maps, and projected future trends, the scenarios provide a picture of four fictional but plausible futures for the region.
What were the goals of Yahara 2070?
The research goals of Yahara 2070 included the development of more sophisticated computer models and the generation of an advanced assessment of the potential future conditions for natural systems and human well-being.
The practical goals of Yahara 2070 were to spark creative conversations about the future of the Yahara Watershed and to encourage long-term thinking in decision making today—an uncommon but necessary practice for ensuring our communities are resilient places to live. The scenarios are intended to be starting points for envisioning what is possible and desirable among the diversity of people who live in the region.
But isn’t 2070 a bit far away?
2070 is two generations into the future. If you know anyone under the age of 20, then you know someone who will likely be alive then. So thinking about two generations from now is thinking about the future of our children, grandchildren, and the other young people each of us cares about.
Why is long-term thinking important?
When it comes to environmental change, many important things change slowly. The impacts of the actions we take today will last long into the future. For example, water quality problems in the Yahara Watershed began when Euro-American settlers began to farm the region in the 1800s. Thus, anticipating the possible effects of changing interactions between humans and their environment can help us ensure future generations will be able to live in a healthy and resilient place.
Scenarios are a way to overcome the rarity and difficulty of long-term thinking. They offer a tangible and empowering process for thinking about future generations and what we can do now to ensure their well-being.
Are these predictions of what will likely happen?
No; despite all that science has accomplished, the real or likely future remains unpredictable. The only likely thing is the unexpected. Human volition and inherent instabilities in the natural world create uncertainties and surprises that make any future view fuzzy. Nonetheless, we must make choices and prepare for the unexpected.
The four scenarios are examples of the innumerable array of possible futures. They project real trends and are based in rigorous scientific methodology, which allows us to estimate and anticipate possible future conditions for life. They are a way of expecting the unexpected.
Are you advocating for any particular future?
No, the research team is not advocating for a particular scenario. The four possibilities we explore do not reflect the opinions of the researchers. Rather, they are based in public input—what residents of the Yahara Watershed think, fear, or hope could happen in the future. The variety between the scenarios is meant to stimulate discussions about a desirable future among a broad and inclusive array of people in the watershed.
Why only four scenarios?
It comes down to what we call the “rule of hand.” It is important to have fewer than five scenarios, because people can best compare about five things at a time—enough for one hand. It is important to have an even number of scenarios, because otherwise people will pick what seems to be the middle one and forget about the others, which defeats the purpose of comparison. Therefore, we ended up with four.
Why are the scenarios so different?
The scenarios reflect the diversity of beliefs among residents of the Yahara Watershed. The differences between the four pathways and subsequent outcomes present sharp contrasts, which enable interesting conversations about the future. Also, in accordance with WSC’s research goals, the contrasts challenge existing computer models and, therefore, provide useful targets for improving the models.
Is there a “best-case” or “worst-case” scenario?
No. The scenarios were not designed to represent a spectrum of best to worst. Rather, each scenario has pros and cons, and what those pros and cons are will be in the eyes of the beholder—i.e., someone’s pro might be another person’s con. Because of the diversity of people’s beliefs and perspectives, it is neither possible nor appropriate to create an “ideal” scenario for the region as a whole. Instead, the scenarios should be compared as a complete package. Users should evaluate the tradeoffs among them and piece together what they think would be a desirable future.
Is there a “Business as Usual” scenario?
No, there is no “business as usual” scenario. The scenarios all start from the same situation—the Yahara as it was in 2010—and then diverge in different directions. Each direction is plausible, and all contain elements of projected current trends, but no scenario is a simple “business as usual” extrapolation of the present.
Is there a most likely scenario?
No, each scenario is equally likely or unlikely to occur. Because the scenarios are built on the beliefs and aspirations of Yahara citizens, some elements of each scenario will likely occur in the future. But it is impossible to predict exactly which elements will occur and, therefore, impossible assign probabilities to any of the scenarios. Reality is far too complex to make such predictions.
How does Yahara 2070 reflect diverse perspectives, especially from communities of color?
When we interviewed local people about their visions for the future, we made sure to invite individuals who represent communities of color, including African American, Latino, and Hmong. Their perspectives are extremely important to understanding the future of this region. While not all of our invitations were accepted, the scenarios do reflect the contributions of those who provided their input.
We also intentionally addressed racial diversity in the scenario narratives. Specifically, the main character in Connected Communities, Rosa, is Latina, and a character in Nested Watersheds is Hmong. The ethnicity of the other characters were left vague in both the stories and the illustrations to allow room for interpretation.
Issues of race and equity are an important part of the discussion about the future of the Yahara Watershed, including as they relate to climate change, environmental and public health, and resource equity. We encourage people to incorporate their ideas about these issues as they discuss a desirable future.