Forecasting future water supplies leaves stakeholders soaked in uncertainties
Apple orchards, vineyards, hydroelectric power,
municipal water supplies, and salmon runs all depend
on the same oversubscribed resource—water. Even in
the snowy Northwest, water is a finite resource with
an infinite number of competing demands.
Global climate change furthers the region’s water
problems. Water availability is dominated by seasonal
release and storage from mountain snowpacks. Scientific
models suggest several climate change effects, including
significantly reduced snowpack, wetter winters, drier
summers, and changes to river temperatures and flows
that are tough on migrating salmon.
Moreover, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered
Species Act, and other water appropriations and
permitting requirements impose strict limitations on
how stakeholders can impact water issues.
Balancing Needs and Resources
To combat this dilemma, Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory is developing an integrated research
agenda. Balancing the region’s water availability and
needs, energy requirements and desire for a sustainable
ecosystem, the Laboratory is assisting stakeholders in
making better water allocation decisions. This approach
taps into PNNL’s expertise in integrated earth and
energy systems modeling, water treatment technologies
and scientific decision support systems.
Understanding the interdependence of energy
and water for alternative energy source development
is central to achieving a regional water balance.
Therefore, stakeholders need to better forecast water
availability to make better usage decisions. These
forecasts are needed at geographical scales ranging
from local irrigation diversion points to the entire
Understanding Future Water Resources
The Northwest Regional Collaboratory, a PNNLled,
NASA-funded collaboration of two national
laboratories and four regional universities, works to
combine satellite images into watershed models in
order to fill in the gaps between immediate weather
forecasts and estimates based on historical data.
These models support streamflow forecasting and
can be used to refine decisions about water releases from reservoirs for salmon, irrigation and municipal use as well as for the production of electricity.
Growing Demands, Diminishing Resources
Ensuring future water supplies meet the
Northwest’s growing population and vibrant
agricultural base, as well as the water and energy
needs for both, is vital. Citizens and industry
alike are seeking out more electricity to maintain
their livelihoods. Hydropower—while an
attractive and clean way to supply energy—adds
an additional demand on water resources.
More energy = more water.
The interdependence of water and energy lies
squarely in the center of major environmental and
economic problems in the region. Population growth
and economic development are placing higher
demands for energy to access and distribute water
supplies; this includes pumping more groundwater
to meet irrigation requirements. The development of
alternative energy resources such as coal-bed methane
and oil shale has raised major concerns for water
consumption, quality and management.
Teaming for Solutions
With so many variables pressing this one single
resource, PNNL’s approach to addressing the issues is
to team with other interested parties and stakeholders.
The Northwest Regional Collaboratory is but one
example of the Laboratory’s collaborations with other
science and technology institutions to address regional
PNNL and the Idaho National Laboratory are
investigating the integration of hydropower and
wind energy to meet water and energy needs of
agriculture. The case study will help develop strategies
for alternative energy sources as our region faces
increasing demands for both.
Water is the common currency of our economy
and an essential part of the Northwest’s quality of
life. The science and technology community must
provide a sound foundation for the sustainable use of
this limited resource. PNNL is working with regional
partners to provide the science and technology
necessary to meet this crucial need.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.