What does climate change mean for our regional water supplies?
Current climate models and climate scientists in the Northwest project the following changes for the coming decades:
- An increase in air temperatures, leading to warmer winters and hotter summers
- An increase in the amount of fall and winter precipitation and a decrease in summer precipitation (although precipitation will continue to be variable from year to year)
- An increase in the severity and frequency of storm events
Regional snowpacks are especially vulnerable to rising temperatures and will likely decrease in the future. Warmer temperatures will most likely lead to earlier snowmelt in snow-dominant and mixed rain-snow river basins. This is a concern for water suppliers whose water supplies depend primarily on snow. For water suppliers whose local watersheds are rain-fed, a decrease in snowpack may be less of an issue in terms of water quantity. However, hotter and drier summers (when demand is highest) could affect water quality (especially water temperature), and could make management of limited water supplies a challenge when water is also needed for fish and recreation.
The Consortium’s Five-Year Strategic Plan (PDF) identifies climate change as an external threat to the region’s water supplies. The Consortium provides information and a forum for the region’s water providers to communicate about climate change impacts and adaptation strategies. Additionally, the Consortium communicates with state and federal agencies about the importance of adequate data collection on climate patterns, watershed characteristics, and decision-support modeling to assist water providers in understanding the potential impacts of climate change, including how to best incorporate the uncertainties associated with specific climate change impacts into the decision making processes of individual Consortium members.