Thursday, December 22, 2016

Water for the long haul

2016 forecast will guide water management in Columbia River Basin

Ecology’s Office of Columbia River (OCR) has a mission to “aggressively pursue development of water supplies to benefit both instream and out of stream uses.”

Since 2006, the program has been building water resiliency in Eastern Washington, especially in response to changing climate and drought.

The 2016 Water Supply and Demand Forecast for the Columbia River Basin tells a story of Washington’s water future and is helping water managers to anticipate likely water needs across the Columbia River Basin over the next 20 years (2035).

“This is a powerful tool for our state,” said Tom Tebb, OCR director. “Not only does the forecast describe where our current demands for water exist, it’s helping us to understand how our local and regional water supply is likely to change in the future.”

Tebb noted the information puts a fine point on where we need to develop projects to ensure we have reliable water supplies and where our investments will be most successful.

Recently submitted to the Legislature, the forecast is produced every five years and builds on past reports. It provides a summary of water supply and demand impacts on:

Climate: The Pacific Northwest is expected to experience increasing temperatures and shifts in precipitation, leading to wetter winters and springs, drier summers, declining snowpack, earlier snowmelt and peak flows, and longer periods of low summer flows. Temperature changes anticipated range from plus 2.2 degrees F to a high of 8.5 degrees F by mid-21st Century.

Economics: While some crop groups have seen relatively large changes within existing cropland, the relative acreage share for the region is expected to remain stable, with hay and grains covering the most acreage. Conversion to specialty crops such as grapes, blueberries and tree fruit is expected to rise by about 6 percent.

Population growth: The region could see an 18 percent increase in demand for municipal and domestic water, totaling some 80,000 acre-feet of water. (An acre-foot covers one acre of land one foot deep)

Water management: Increases in water storage capacity from planned projects can reduce vulnerabilities to drought, or can supply water for new uses, including development of new irrigated lands. Over the next 10 years, the program has a goal to develop more than 300,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation.

This forecast provides recommendations for modeling refinements, data gap needs, and policy changes that can help us adapt and succeed in the future.

Recommendations for future forecast reports
  • Include groundwater supply estimates in future reports by increasing groundwater monitoring and risk analysis of declining aquifers to assure sufficient water supplies.
  • Include any changes to Columbia River reservoir operations that occur when a new International Columbia River Treaty is ratified, now under review by Canada and the United States.
  • Refine future agriculture water demand by understanding the double cropping patterns across Eastern Washington and
  • Improve municipal and hydropower forecasting methods to enhance future water policy decisions 
The forecast research team, led by the Washington State University and the State of Washington Water Research Center, includes scientists Drs. Jennifer Adam, Michael Brady and Jonathan Yoder from Washington State University, in collaboration with Ecology and others.

Office of Columbia River celebrates decade of work

For 10 years the Columbia River Water Management Program has been working to find integrated water solutions for farmers, growing communities and to benefit endangered salmon and the natural environment.

Today, through innovative partnerships, we’ve developed more than 400,000 acre-feet of water in Eastern Washington, including:
  • Water for vineyards on Red Mountain 
  • Water for potatoes, corn, seed crops in the Columbia Basin.
  • Water security for towns like Twisp and Bridgeport and the cities of White Salmon, Kennewick and Pasco
  • Water made available to improve streamflows all along the Columbia River and in important tributaries like the Methow, Peshastin and Yakima. 
This work supports a $12 billion agricultural and food processing industry, protects an aquifer that has dropped as much as 200 feet since 1980, and supports endangered fish in key basins along 80 miles of river as well as anticipating municipal and domestic water concerns.
More information

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications manager

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