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Washington State University
WSU Research Water


Ensuring a safe, abundant, and sustainable supply

In the winter of 2015, the snowpack dropped to record lows in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. When summer heat arrived, the scanty snowmelt left rivers, streams, and reservoirs running low—just as farmers needed water for growing season.

Water is critical for production of food and energy. To conserve the region’s limited water supply, WSU scientists are rethinking food and energy production systems. Teaming with one of the National Institutes for Water Resources, housed on the Pullman campus, they seek ways to make food and energy production systems more water-efficient. They also explore ways to manage finite water resources across a range of competing uses.

Research areas

  • Safe and abundant water supply
  • Effective water management
  • Water use and healthy environments
  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • A closeup of a woman Supplying food, energy, and water for future generations

    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 … » More …

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  • A landscape photo of ross lake Managing reservoirs for the health of the environment

    Water bodies produce more methane than landfills

    Reservoirs dot the Pacific Northwest, providing water for irrigation, fish conservation, hydropower and recreation. Yet these freshwater bodies also contribute to climate change by releasing methane—a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide—into the air.

    The use of fertilizers, fossil fuels and other practices common to industrial civilizations increases the discharge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous into lakes, streams and coastal areas, causing algae growth, depleting oxygen and posing a hazard to human health. By slowing the flow of water through watersheds, thereby providing favorable conditions for algal growth and sediment trapping, reservoirs can greatly alter … » More …

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  • A closeup of green grapes growing Conserving water, improving Washington’s white wine

    WSU researchers inform irrigation strategies

    Washington is a leading producer of Riesling and Chardonnay wine grapes. In fact, these two grapes account for 75 percent of the white wine grape production in the state.

    In arid eastern Washington, where most of the state’s wine grapes are grown, efficient irrigation is the name of the game. But it can be particularly challenging for white wine grapes. If a grower anticipates a heat wave, he or she can have a hard time figuring out how much to irrigate. Overwatering could result in too much canopy growth at the expense of berry production, and not enough water could … » More …

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  • A landscape photo of the columbia river Planning to meet tomorrow’s needs for water

    Research supports management of water supplies statewide

    In 15 years, where will additional water supply be most critically needed in the state of Washington?

    The State of Washington Water Research Center, led by WSU economics professor Jonathon Yoder, sought to find out. It forecast water supply and demand in the 258,000 square-mile Columbia River Basin, anticipating changes triggered by future environmental and economic conditions. It also conducted a cost-benefit analysis of an integrated water resource management plan for the Yakima River Basin, home to a growing population and a $3 billion agricultural industry.

    Its findings help focus the state’s conservation and management projects. Ultimately, … » More …

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  • A photo of a urban runoff under a bridge Removing pollutants from urban runoff

    Researchers seek ways to trap toxins and improve water quality

    Paved surfaces cover tens of thousands of square miles in the United States. Almost all are impervious, collecting pesticides, fertilizers, oil, metals and other pollutants. The resulting runoff is one of the biggest threats to water quality.

    On the west side of Washington State, abundant rain and a surging urban population create an ideal observatory for the problem. Working south of Seattle at Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Puyallup, researchers at the Washington Stormwater Center are working to address water-quality issues and develop effective, evidence-based management practices and principles.

    Permeable … » More …

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