Helping the Columbia Basin withstand climate change

In Washington’s Columbia River basin, climate change has diminished snow storage, a significant source of summer water for the region. At the same time, population growth is escalating demand for water.

The basin is home to farms and ranches that feed the state. Hydropower generates more than half of the Pacific Northwest’s electricity, most coming from the Columbia River.1 Resources must be deftly managed to develop the region’s resilience to climate change.

Population growth and climate change strain interdependent food, energy and water systems. WSU researchers have long studied each of these systems alone. A recent $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture unites the researchers’ efforts.

Exploring connections among food, energy, and water

Jennifer Adam and Julie Padowski are co-leading an interdisciplinary team that explores how food, energy, and water systems interact. Dr. Adam is associate director of the State of Washington Water Research Center, where Dr. Padowski is a clinical assistant professor. Dr. Padowski is also affiliated with WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

Creating a roadmap for an uncertain future

Researchers will identify ways to optimize resource management under rapidly changing conditions. They will integrate existing models to better understand complex interactions throughout the basin. They also plan to evaluate how technological innovations, such as precision agriculture or energy storage batteries, might help mitigate effects of the shifting climate.

The team spans the WSU Pullman and Vancouver campuses, as well as University of Idaho, University of Utah, Utah State University, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Faculty from WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources also participate.

1. Bonneville Power Administration, www.bpa.gov/PublicInvolvement/CommunityEducation/ValueoftheRiver/Pages/Hydropower.aspx