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Sessions Outline Future of Water

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, September 2, 2011

Look ahead to 2030 more comprehensive than previous efforts

Farmers will have the opportunity to learn what the water outlook may be in their area for the next 20 years.

The Washington State Department of Ecology will offer a series of workshops Sept. 7-9 on the Columbia River Basin Long Term Supply and Demand forecast. The series was developed by the department, Washington State University and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Carolyn Comeau, of Ecology, said the forecast is more comprehensive than the one issued in 2006. It goes into more detail about the agricultural demand for water to the year 2030.

"It's a 20-year look ahead to see what kind of water supplies are going to be available," Comeau said.

The forecast incorporates the impacts of climate change and an economic analysis of crop trends that may occur based on water availability.

Chad Kruger, director of WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the projection will be used by Ecology to make investment decisions regarding the water supply.

"If we've got $200 million to spend, what are the better options for spending that money to make sure we solve as many problems as possible?" he said.

The forecast considers 40 different crops grown in the basin.

"It will be something that will inform farmers, that they can utilize along with everything else they use to make their decisions," Comeau said.

The report looks at needs by watersheds. Comeau advised farmers to study the forecast for their specific area prior to attending a workshop. The forecast also looks at municipal, industrial and in-stream needs.

Agriculture is the biggest water user, Ecology communications manager Joye Redfield-Wilder said.

The Washington State Legislature created the department's Office of the Columbia River to manage water supplies on the river for fish, industry, municipal and agriculture uses.

"The intent is for the office to really understand what water supply projects they need to fund," Comeau said. "It's going to help us understand where supplies are, where demand is and help assign solutions to meeting those demands for farmers."

"Looking back on the history of water management in the state, it's been a fairly confrontational issue," Kruger said. "But this work was well supported by multiple perspectives within industry and the environmental community to support this approach: Whether we need water for in-stream or out-of-stream issues, we need more water."

The workshops cover a preliminary version of the forecast. A final version is due to the legislature Nov. 15. All comments will be included in the final report, Comeau said.

An updated forecast is planned every five years.


Workshop schedule

Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast

The Project

In November 2011, the Office of Columbia River (OCR) will publish its five year update of the Water Supply and Demand Forecast (Forecast). A draft report will be released in mid September. Workshops previewing the draft report will be held in Richland, Wenatchee, and Spokane, Sept. 7-9.

OCR contracted with Washington State University to study the out-of-stream piece of the Forecast and with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to do the instream component. It will be the most comprehensive study of future demand ever produced in the state of Washington. It employs state-of-the-art technology and scientific research to identify where additional water supply is needed, now and in the future. The results will guide OCR in developing a water management plan to meet eastern Washington's environmental and economic needs.


The Forecast evaluates supply and forecasts demand on three tiers: basin-wide (which includes seven states and British Columbia,) at the watershed (water resource inventory area or WRIA) level, and within a one-mile corridor along the Columbia River. The Forecast examines:

Water demand for four sectors: agricultural, municipal, hydroelectric, and instream flows. Water supplies.

Climate change impacts.

Instream flows for eight critical fish basins in eastern Washington.


Water supply modeling conducted for the Forecast predicts warmer, wetter winters, when water demand is low, and hotter, dryer summers, when demand peaks. By 2030, the model predicts an increase in average annual flow in the basin of 2%, but the timing of flows could change dramatically depending on location within the basin. For example, flows on the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam are expected to increase by up to 35% from November to May, but decrease by up to 9% from June to October.

The Forecast includes an "instream atlas," created by WDFW for eight fish critical watersheds in Eastern Washington: The atlas incorporates maps and information on streamflow restoration priorities and stream-level information on fish life history stages. The atlas shows that recovery opportunities exist in all eight WRIAs to improve fisheries, and that adopted instream flows for many of these WRIAs are routinely not met. OCR will use these tools to ensure that new water supply projects it funds will benefit instream flow and protect fish habitats

Agriculture is the largest single user of water in eastern Washington. The combined influences of climate change, economic trends and population growth will result in an increase in the amount of water needed for agricultural irrigation.

The Forecast predicts that by 2030, diversions for cities and communities in Eastern Washington will increase by approximately 24 percent or an additional 109,000 acre-feet per year, based on expected population growths.

Hydropower use in Eastern Washington is expected to remain fairly stable (no significant growth) over the next 20 years, with increases in demand being met through conservation and power from other sources.

More Information Focus Sheet: "Forecasting Water Demand in the Columbia River Basin"

Excerpt: Hydropower Demand

Future demand is estimated based on a review of power planning by entities including Bonneville Power Administration, Northwest Power Planning Council, and local public utility districts. Hydropower use in Eastern Washington is expected to remain fairly stable (no significant growth) over the next 20 years, with increases in demand being met through conservation and power from other sources.

Matthew Weaver
Sessions Outline Future of Water
Capital Press, September 2, 2011

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