Water modeling seeks farmers' input
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Researchers are looking for water users to help them as they model the major river systems in the Columbia Basin.
Washington State University recently received a $1.4 million grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop a computer model of water movement, quality and movement of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon in the Columbia River Basin.
Project leader Cailin Huyck Orr, assistant professor in the School of the Environment, said researchers will use several climate scenarios to consider the potential effects on streamflows and reservoirs.
Orr said they will look for water users to determine the most important questions related to water availability. They will also ask whether they would change their land use or crops based on water timing or quality.
"We'll probably model a range of possible future conditions," Orr said. "We're quite confident the reality will be somewhere within the range of things we're looking at, but we probably won't say this is the specific answer."
Researchers will study how cost influences water use.
"It's critical to the project that people are involved," she said. "This isn't something we're just doing ourselves in a building in WSU. We really are hoping to engage people that are actually the water users."
The models will examine Yakima, Spokane, Snake River and Willamette Valley areas.
Chad Kruger, director of WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Wenatchee, Wash., said most of the economic research done to date has been in theory, informally using advisors.
"Will farmers do what an economist would predict they do or would they do something else?" he said.
Kruger said there's no agenda other than what factors go into the decision-making process.
"Ultimately the process will help define what it is stakeholders think is most important to look at," he said.