Repeat: The Columbia River Basin Will Look Like The Tigris/Euphrates Basin

I’ve never repeated a post, but our extreme heatwave on top of our extreme drought made me think of this post from last January. Recently, I heard someone from the Oregon Water Resource Department deny that global heating had anything to do with the current drought. I hope we can all start paying attention to the science and understand that we need to take urgent action. Here’s the post:

A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation on local water issues where I focused on climate change, drought, our dwindling snowpack, and its enormous repercussions on ecosystems, municipal water supplies, and agriculture. I was surprised by the fact that so many in the audience, even those deep in “water world”, had not made the connection between snowpack and local water issues*. There seemed to be a view that we have this enormous aquifer that will provide for us without understanding that a deep snowpack is the source of that aquifer. Today, I read a review of a scientific article on the subject that should scare all of us.

Last April, the journal Nature published “Agricultural risks from changing snowmelt”.  That site requires a paid subscription, which I do not have, but The Climate CIRCulator** published a synopisis.  I highly recommend this summary of a topic I have covered for years.  The part that added to my understanding was a forecast for what this might mean for the entire Columbia Basin, which includes Central Oregon.

The researchers developed a “snowmelt hazard index” and applied it to major basins worldwide.  “The Columbia River Basin, which scored better than its neighbors to the south and east (or maybe we should say less worse), got a middling-but-still-worrisome snow hazard scale rating, scoring next to the Tigris/Euphrates Basin. (Yes, you read that correctly as well. The Pacific Northwest’s future water woes were calculated to be on par with a key basin in the Middle East.)”

I am not a scientist and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the study, but it was published in a respected, peer-reviewed scientific journal.  That counts for something in my book.  The study only covers surface water issues, however, it does not consider groundwater impacts.  The Deschutes Basin is primarily a groundwater system but USGS studies have conclusively shown that there is a one to one correspondence between ground and surface water in the Deschutes Basin.  So, I am confident that the conclusions of the study do apply locally.

*Here’s an even older example: over a decade ago my wife and I backpacked up the Middle Sister to a glacier that looked enormous on the topo map but turned out to be no larger than our house. Back in town, I made the comment to a local water world luminary that all the canal piping in the world won’t make a difference if there is no snow. That individual was nonplussed, stating that we had an aquifer that will never run out. Thankfully, that individual has a broader understanding now, but many still don’t.

**”The Climate CIRCulator is a quarterly newsletter covering climate science and the Northwest. Our posts are written by scientists and communicators at the Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC), the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI), and the Oregon Climate Service (OCS). CIRC is a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate adaptation effort the Regional Integrated Sciences & Assessments (RISA) program.”