Workshops to discuss Columbia Basin water forecast

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Below-Wanapum-Dam-webPULLMAN, Wash. – Changing climate will affect availability and demand for water in Washington’s Columbia River Basin and influence how water will be managed over the next 20 years, according to a new report being prepared for the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River.

How those changes could affect people, farms and fish will be shared at a series of free public workshops in June.

Scheduled for June 21, 22 and 23 in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane, the workshops will give a first look at the 2016 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast ( Produced every five years, the forecast helps public officials and stakeholders plan for future conditions that could be quite different from historic norms.

The report is authored by the State of Washington Water Research Center in collaboration with the Department of Ecology and others. A final report will be submitted to the legislature later this year.

The workshops will be held:

• Tuesday, June 21, 1:30-4:30 p.m., WSU Tri-Cities, CIC Rooms 120/120A, 2710 Crimson Way, Richland.
• Wednesday, June 22, 8:30-11:30 a.m., WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, Overley Laboratory Building, Meeting Room 102, 1100 N. Western Ave., Wenatchee.
• Thursday, June 23, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Enduris Training Facility, Training Room, 1610 S. Technology Blvd., Spokane.

At the workshops, question-and-answer sessions and open houses will allow participants to review the draft forecast and make comments and suggestions.

“Anyone interested in water management in Washington is welcome to attend – farmers, people who boat or fish and anyone interested in the effect of changing climate on water availability and use,” said Jonathan Yoder, director of the state water research center and professor of economics at Washington State University.

The draft report and directions for submitting public comments will be available at the website above. Public comments will be accepted June 20-July 20.

Shifting supply, demand

Climate projections suggest that average temperatures are likely to increase in the Pacific Northwest and the region will see precipitation come in the cooler months, but with more rain and less snow, said Yoder. Changes in water use are expected as well, due to population increases and changes in agricultural production.

“The forecast gives regional and local pictures of how the water supply and demand is expected to change,” he said.

In the forecast, WSU researchers built upon the foundations laid in the 2011 water supply and demand report with updated computer modeling that captures the relationships between climate, hydrology and the economics of water use. They modeled the Columbia River Basin upstream of Bonneville Dam, each watershed in eastern Washington and Washington’s Columbia River mainstem from the Canadian border to Bonneville Dam.

Their preliminary results predict that by 2035 there will be an increase of about 9 percent in annual water supplies across the Basin, compared to supply around the beginning of the 21st century.

However, with higher temperatures, smaller snowpack, earlier melts and more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, water supply will shift away from when demands are highest. This could cause increased summer water scarcity, even as agricultural irrigation demand is shifting due in part to an earlier growing season.

New data for future planning

This year’s forecast includes an expanded research agenda that addresses additional policy needs for the Department of Ecology, the Office of Columbia River, other water managers and stakeholders. These new elements include:

• A preliminary assessment of groundwater resources in the Columbia River Basin, with a focus on areas with declining groundwater and preliminary activities to support integration of groundwater and surface water modeling in future forecasts.
• A pilot application of a satellite-based modeling tool that helps scientists understand water use by measuring evapotranspiration from irrigated farm crop production.
• A summary of water banking developments in Washington and the western U.S. in the last 10 years.
• An examination of the factors affecting participation in the Department of Ecology’s water supply development programs and permitting, including an analysis of the effect of user-pay requirements on participation rates.
• A preliminary analysis of the prospect for broadening the forecast to the west side of Washington.

Workshops and public feedback will help refine and focus completion of the 2016 forecast and shape research goals for the 2021 forecast.

The forecast effort was made possible by the financial contributions and technical support from the Office of Columbia River. The forecast research team, led by the water research center, includes the following scientists: Jennifer Adam, Michael Brady and Jonathan Yoder from WSU; Michael Barber from the University of Utah; Dan Haller from Aspect Consulting; Steven Vigg and team at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; and outreach and extension support led by Chad Kruger, director of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU.



Jonathan Yoder, State of Washington Water Research Center director and professor in the WSU School of Economic Sciences, 509-335-8596,

Melissa Downes, technical project lead in the Office of Columbia River, 509-454-4259,