Researchers stress need for further stakeholder input
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Central and Eastern Washington will have more water available in the winter and less in the summer in the decades to come, a new study predicts.
At the same time, year-round demand for water will increase, it said.
The Washington Department of Ecology held a series of workshops the week of Sept. 5 on a draft report of the Columbia Basin Water Supply and Demand Forecast.
Chad Kruger, director of Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, said researchers expect about 3 percent more supply and 10 percent more demand on average.
Through modeling, WSU civil engineering assistant professor Jennifer Adam predicts average temperatures will continue to increase. Precipitation during the summer could decrease as it increases during other seasons, she said.
The change would shift water availability from the summer -- the peak of irrigation water demand -- to the winter, when demand is low.
The report offers a range of possibilities for supply and demand for watersheds in the region, Kruger said.
The study does not take into account ground water hydrology, Adam said, but that is something that will be examined for the 2016 report. The Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada will also be examined in the future report.
The researchers stressed the need for stakeholder input. The department will publish a final version of the report in November, including feedback.
David Lundgren, manager for the Lincoln County Conservation District, is hopeful for the potential to store water acquired in the winter to recharge aquifers or use in the summer.
Lundgren advised farmers to increase their irrigation efficiency or conserve water in a way that also saves energy. As populations grow, water demand will increase, and agriculture will be a target for diversion, he said, so farmers should be aware of the issue.
"We're all going to need more water in the future," he said.
Whether they agree or disagree with the forecast, Lincoln County Commissioner Dennis Bly believes people are going to have to pay attention to water issues.
"In the next 20 years, water is going to be the most important subject," Bly said. "The more information we can get to look at it, the better."
Water report at a glance
Dan Haller, spokesman for the department's Office of the Columbia River, said the state Legislature in 2006 passed the Columbia River program, offering $200 million to:
* Aid farmers in the Odessa area relying on declining ground water supplies, replacing it with water from the Columbia River.
* Aid interruptible users who are curtailed once every 20 years during low-flow, drought situations.
* Work to help hundreds of people waiting on a backlog of water rights applications.
* Improve in-stream flows for fish.
In the last five years, the state has invested in projects to meet those goals, Haller said.
The report forecasts demand for agriculture, municipalities, fisheries and hydropower for the next 20 years. About $100 million of the legislative funding is not obligated, Haller said, and the plan will help evaluate the best ways to invest the money.
Haller recommends farmers look at the forecast for their particular area, and consider their options.