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$1.8 million grant to study climate change impacts, upper Deschutes

The Department of the Interior announced Monday that the Bureau of Reclamation will make $1.8 million available for comprehensive water studies addressing climate change options to three western river basins, with the largest grant going to the upper Deschutes River basin in central Oregon.

The studies will address basinwide efforts to evaluate and address the effects of climate change and define options for meeting future water demands.

“Reclamation and its partners in the West have a long history of working together to evaluate and address the impacts to water availability in river basins,” said Lowell Pimley, Reclamation’s acting commissioner.

“In the face of climate change, changing snowpack, changing precipitation patterns and reduced water supplies, these comprehensive basin studies will assist in long-term planning goals for crucial water supplies and to help ensure a future of healthy habitats and communities,” Pimley said

Surface water in the upper Deschutes basin has been almost fully allocated to irrigators and other water rights holders since the early 1900s, and many stream reaches suffer from low flows at critical times of year, according to the federal agency.

The study will examine strategies to meet minimum flow targets to help ensure that the ongoing effort to reintroduce steelhead trout and Chinook salmon in the basin will continue to be successful.

The study builds upon past work to update groundwater and surface water models, develop a basin specific climate analysis, update supply and demand projections and identify specific actions that can be taken to resolve water issues in the basin. Basin study results will be used to develop a long term basin-wide water management plan to guide sustainable water management actions in the future.

“Many of the basin’s current challenges trace back to the 19th Century, when agriculture was the primary focus in Central Oregon,” said Tod Heisler, executive director at the Deschutes River Conservancy. DRC is a participating entity in the Basin Study Work Group, a consortium of local, state and federal government agencies, irrigation districts, conservation and recreational interests have been working together to address the complexities of water management in the basin.

The federal grant for the study totals $750,000, with $750,000 in non-federal matching funds expected. The study should build on past work to update groundwater and surface water models, develop surface water models, develop a basin-specific climate analysis, update supply and demand projections and identify specific actions that can be taken to resolve water issues in the basin.

Study results will be used to build a long term basin water management plan to guide sustainable water management actions in the future. The study brings together a diverse set of stakeholders to seek specific solutions for resolving water supply and demand imbalances for agriculture, municipal and environmental uses.

“DRC and its stakeholders have worked for decades to provide for the needs of communities, agriculture, recreational interests and the species that depend upon the river and its tributaries. This study is the next step, and we expect it to point the way to a long-term solution to restore needed flows to our streams, Heisler said.”

The upper Deschutes basin effort brings together a diverse set of stakeholders to seek specific solutions for resolving water supply and demand imbalances for agriculture, municipal and environmental uses. Reclamation will collaborate with the Deschutes Basin Board of Control and the Basin Study workgroup.

The federal funding comes through the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Basin Study Program. WaterSMART provides leadership and tools to states and local communities to address current and potential imbalances between water supply and demand and to work toward sustainable solutions.

Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $200 million in competitively awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program.

Other selected basins include the Upper Red River Basin Study in Oklahoma and the Missouri River Headwaters Basin in Montana.

Each basin study-- The Upper Red River Basin in Oklahoma, Upper Deschutes Basin in Oregon and Missouri River Headwaters Basin in Montana -- consists of four parts:

-- state-of-the-art projections of future supply and demand by river basin, including the impacts of climate change;

-- an analysis of how the basin’s existing water and power operations and infrastructure will perform in the face of changing water realities;

-- development of adaptation and mitigation strategies to improve operations and infrastructure to supply adequate water in the future; and

-- a quantitative or qualitative trade-off analysis of the adaptation and mitigation strategies, findings and conclusions.

The non-federal partners in a basin study must contribute at least 50 percent of the total study cost in non-federal funding or in-kind services.

WaterSMART is the Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand.

Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $200 million in competitively awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program.

Columbia Basin Bulletin The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. Articles republished by The Dalles Chronicle with permission.

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