Senior stakeholders meeting on climate and water policy: Executive and general meeting summaries

L.C. Whitely Binder
2002 unpublished
Climate and Water Policy Meeting at Skamania Lodge, but in a small group setting with the region's senior water and natural resource managers. The meeting began with two presentations on regional climate variability, climate change, and projected impacts of climate variability and change on Pacific Northwest (PNW) water resources. The presentation also included a brief overview of projected impacts on salmon, forests, and coastal systems. Discussions began immediately after the presentations.
more » ... he presentations. Major discussion points and conclusions include the following: • One-Year Versus Multi-Year Droughts. An early and important distinction made by participants was the significance of one-year versus multi-year droughts. Research conducted by the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) on the hydrologic impacts of natural climate variability and human-induced climate change in the PNW shows an increased potential for multi-year droughts over the next 20 to 50 years. Participants agreed that while the region has managed to make it through difficult one-year droughts, multi-year droughts are an entirely different scenario. The region can generally weather a one-year drought using carryover storage (where available) and groundwater. The reliability of those options is questionable after the first year of drought however. • Capacity For Autonomous Response To Drought. The PNW's capacity for autonomous response to single year and multi-year droughts was a major focal point of the meeting. Autonomous responses are actions that could be expected to occur without any significant change in the region's approach to managing water. Participants identified the following possible autonomous responses to future single and multi-year droughts: continued increase in groundwater use; implementation of curtailment plants, drought year options, and temporary water transfers; increased application of conjunctive management systems; and market-driven responses (i.e., "water will follow the money"). Other possibilities include more storage and development of an integrated rule curve in the Columbia River. The role of the Prior Appropriation Doctrine as an autonomous response was also discussed. Prior Appropriation was viewed by some participants as an appropriate mechanism for managing drought given that the doctrine already recognizes that water shortages will occur. This presumption is built into the doctrine with recognition of junior and senior water rights and the curtailment of junior rights in low flow years. Prior Appropriation also facilitates the transfer of water between uses, allowing some flexibility in water use during critical periods. 3 It is clear from the discussion on autonomous responses (and the region's management of the 2001 drought) that the current framework for managing drought in the PNW is based on the assumption that: 1) any drought is a one-year drought, and 2) that responses to the drought must be able to pull the region through any one drought season or year. As such, this framework often requires making economic and social tradeoffs between water use for agriculture, municipalities, and protection of threatened and endangered salmonids. The framework leaves the region vulnerable, however, to multi-year droughts. The extent to which institutional and political culture shape drought management approaches also became evident during the meeting. Idaho's water management culture and autonomous drought response preferences are dominated by Prior Appropriation-derived market-based appropriations. Water curtailments are made as needed in Idaho; rights dating back to 1888 were curtailed in Idaho during the 2001 drought. Oregon and Washington also have allocation systems based on Prior Appropriation but water curtailment is too politically sensitive an issue to be relied on as the dominant approach. In all states municipal users, no matter how junior, are protected from curtailment. • Incorporating Climate-Related Drought Concerns into Planning and Policy Arenas. An important step in minimizing climate-related hydrologic impacts is recognizing these potential impacts in long-term planning and policy arenas. Doing so is conceivable; there are many projections and assumptions planners must incorporate when developing long-range resource management plans. Population growth and endangered species concerns are two major variables. Climate change is a third variable. Including climate change in planning considerations, participants noted, might make a difference between two choices. Recognizing these impacts also makes sense from a risk-management perspective. One challenge to including climate change in long-term planning is the likelihood of climate change projections being realized. Before individuals make significant changes, they will want to know what will happen. The risk otherwise is being wrong in a very costly way. "It is best to react to the crisis", a participant noted, "because everyone else is in it too." Gradual trends (changes of 1% per year) "are easy to deal with" but changes in extreme events or uncertainty test the basis for institutions. Elected officials, it was noted, operate on 2-and 4year cycles. Events occurring in 10 to 20 year time frames are someone else's problem. Examples of including climate change in long-range planning are available. Idaho has started incorporating climate change scenarios into stochastic modeling. Seattle Public Utilities and the City of Portland also included climate change impacts in recent long-term planning efforts. • Increased Collaboration. Several examples of on-going or new collaborative efforts between PNW states were mentioned. Directors from the four PNW water resource agencies (ID, OR, MT, WA) are collaboratively exploring an interstate water bank and other initiatives under the four governors' salmon initiatives. Idaho and Washington are also cooperating on shared aquifer studies. Washington State's proposed 2002 Budget contains a number of studies related to improving negotiations with neighboring states and British Columbia, and 4 improving information on federal and tribal reservation water rights, and improving water rights dispute resolution processes (e.g., water court) and water rights records. Funding for all of these activities is contingent on Governor Locke keeping these items in the proposed 2002 budget. Further discussion on adapting to the hydrologic impacts of climate change in the PNW is expected to continue at all levels (federal, state, and local) in the future. For more information on the
doi:10.7915/cig8rb6xf fatcat:uvuua62fonep5cxw66yv22k5sy