Category Archives: Impacts & Adaptation

Managing for Washington’s Future: A Bigger Player in Veggie Production

By Fidel Maureira, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Washington State University

Cartoon of hilly landscape with rows of vegetables.

Cartoon adapted from https://pixabay.com (free for commercial use; no attribution required).

A few months ago I wrote an article that gave a preview of the work we were conducting, to explore whether Washington State could become the new California in vegetable production as the climate warms. Results from this work are now in, and the answer is… yes, the potential is definitely there. Continue reading

Climate Change and Downy Brome in Pacific Northwest Dryland Agriculture

 Q&A with Weed Scientist Dr. Ian C. Burke

Two headshots

Ian Burke (top) and Doug Finkelnburg (bottom).

By Doug Finkelnburg, Area Extension Educator, Cropping Systems, University of Idaho Extension

In the book “Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest”, the common weed downy brome or “cheatgrass” is identified as potentially problematic for wheat producers as the climate changes. Downy brome is projected to head earlier in the season and expand its present occupied acreage. Such changes are happening concurrently to broader herbicide resistances being found in Pacific Northwest downy brome populations, a combination that puts increased pressure on weed managers. Curious how these issues interacted, I asked Dr. Ian Burke, Washington State University Weed Scientist and lead author of the Advances chapter “Integrated weed management” about how climate change and herbicide resistance will affect downy brome management. Continue reading

Check it out: Engagement as a Path Towards Greater Resilience to Climate Change

By Sonia A. Hall

Two people on horseback rounding up cattle

Our most recently published case study on resilience to climate change describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho.

Over the last few years at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources we have developed a range of case studies highlighting individual farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest that are implementing practices or strategies that provide ecological and economic benefits now in addition to increasing resilience to climate change. We’ve discussed some of these case studies in previous AgClimate articles (see those on the use of stripper headers and precision nitrogen). Our most recent series is the Rancher-to-Rancher series, which explores innovative approaches three Pacific Northwest ranchers are using that increase their resilience in the face of a changing climate. Though each case study is specific to the conditions of the particular rancher being profiled, insights and strategies from each case study may be applicable elsewhere.

Check out the most recently published case study, that describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho. Continue reading

The Lasting Impacts of Wildfire

Re-posted from Water Current News, WSU Extension

Hillsolope with trees in the foreground, and rockier slopes with a forested patch in the background

The Entiat Experimental Forest 40 years after a wildfire. Photo Marketa McGuire.

In 1970, when a large lightening caused wildfire started in the Entiat Experimental Forest in north-central Washington, researchers had already collected 12 years of baseline data on three watersheds. Weather and streamflow (including quantity, quality, and timing of water discharge) had all been recorded. This provided a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of post-fire recovery efforts on hydrology.

Decades after the fire occurred, Ryan Niemeyer, an adjunct professor in Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, along with his colleagues Kevin Bladon and Rick Woodsmith, began examining the long-term impacts the fire had on the hydrologic system. His findings, recently published in the journal Hydrological Processes, reveal that fire can affect annual stream discharge, peak flows, low flows, and evapotranspiration even 40 years after the burn. Continue reading

Are There More Multiyear Snow Droughts in Our Future?

By Adrienne Marshall

Hiker in a high elevation area, with a small lake and ridges with patchy snow in the background

Late May in the Sierra Nevadas in 2015, a low snowpack year that enabled spring recreation in the high country. Photo: Darren Bagnall.

As an environmental scientist, I’ve done plenty of hiking in the western U.S., always with a map, water bottle and list of water sources. In dry areas it’s always smart to ration water until you get to a new source. Sometimes a stream has dried up for the season, or a pond is too scummy to drink from, so your supply has to stretch further than planned. On one memorable hike, I found that a water source was dry. The next one, three miles later, was dry too. And the one after that had a dead bear carcass in it. While one dry water source was tolerable, several in a row created a serious problem.

Something similar is happening to snow resources in the western United States. Scientists have long known that the warming temperatures associated with climate change are diminishing the region’s snowpack, with more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow. That’s a problem because snowpack is a critical resource, acting as a natural reservoir that stores winter precipitation. Are we likely to face several low snowpack years in a row? Continue reading

Check it out: New Studies in the Region Discuss Wildfires in the Future and How Fuel Treatments May Affect Them

By Sonia A. Hall

Fire burning up a shrub steppe slope, with a conifer tree in the foreground

The lightning-sparked Carlton Complex Fire in July was the largest in the state’s recorded history, burning 256,108 acres and destroying 322 residences. Photo and caption: Washington Department of Natural Resources, on Flickr, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Pacific Northwesterners, especially those of us living and breathing in the inland Northwest, expect wildfires every summer. It’s not about if, but about when, where, and how severe they will be, both in forest and rangeland landscapes. As with many other aspects of natural resource management, climate change continues to add a layer of complexity and uncertainty both in terms of the patterns of fire expected in the future, and in terms of the response of land managers. The USDA’s Northwest Climate Hub’s April 2020 newsletter highlighted the findings of two scientific articles that are addressing questions around future patterns in wildfires and what can be done to prepare. Continue reading

How Can Long-Term Water Storage Management Mitigate Problems in an Era of Water Resource Deficits?

Mengqi Zhao, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Washington State University

Set of containment structures filled with water, an aquifer recharge area

Figure 1. Managed Aquifer Recharge, like this example for the Merti aquifer shared between Kenya and Somalia, can help provide additional water in periods of water scarcity. The photo is from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. (IGAD).

The 2015 drought caused more than $700 million in economic losses across Washington State. Even with current water storage management, both in places where rivers, lakes, and reservoirs generally provide sufficient water and in places where aquifers are the most stable water resource across seasons, extreme drought still impacted our economy. While droughts may impact different places with varying intensity, the risk of long-term water scarcity is greater when aquifers provide water today at the expense of tomorrow’s supply. As the region faces population increases and increasing competition for water resources to provide environmental value and economic value, the risk may increase further. So what water management options can help us mitigate the impacts of drought in the future?

In our region, we are experienced in using surface reservoirs as buffers between the naturally variable water cycle and the relatively more consistent agricultural water demand. The less visible buffer underground has often been ignored. Yet interest is growing, as aquifers may also be a useful reservoir over the long term, if managed sustainably. Our research team is evaluating managed aquifer recharge (MAR), an approach that stores water in the aquifer during the snowmelt season, allowing users to pump it for irrigation during periods of water scarcity (Figure 1). We have been asking questions about how to recharge aquifer systems to optimally achieve both short-term usage and long-term water supply sustainability. Imagine that the amount of water recharged into the aquifer becomes your future available MAR entitlement to pump up when needed. The more water that recharges the aquifer, the more effective the MAR will be in mitigating drought impacts. We are interested in answering specific questions, such as ‘What timing of recharge and infiltration area would have been needed for managed aquifer recharge to provide an effective buffer against the 2015 drought?’ or ‘How effective is managed aquifer recharge for maintaining sustainable water supply during single-year drought or even multi-year droughts?’ Continue reading

Check it out: Protecting Water from the Impacts of Wildfire… Are There Other Advantages?

By Sonia A. Hall

Firefighter looking back to a surface fire under a pine canopy, surrounded by smoke.

A recent report describes how wildfire risk reduction projects can have rippling economic effects across a community. Photo: Gila National Forest under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Being involved in FireEarth, a large research project exploring what makes communities more or less vulnerable to the impacts of wildfire and its cascading consequences, I am really interested in the complexity of impacts and, just as important, what communities, agencies, and other organizations can do to reduce their vulnerabilities. It is not unusual for the initial hypothesis associated with these questions to be that wildfire risk reduction projects in the watershed upstream and around a community have costs associated with them, and we need to understand those costs—as well as the targeted risk reduction benefits that such projects provide—to make sound investment decisions. Now recent work published by the US Geological Survey and partners explores other advantages of such projects: Continue reading

An Integrated View of Water Vulnerability Across the Northwest

By Paris Edwards, USDA Northwest Climate Hub

Water systems across the Northwest sustain crops, livestock, ecosystems, people and power production. These highly managed, interconnected networks of rivers, reservoirs, canals, and pipelines are economic mainstays for the region, and play a foundational role in food and energy security and sustaining natural resource livelihoods.

Top photo shows a large city with a snowcapped mountain in the background. The bottom picute shows rolling hills, with stripes of brown earth or green crops, with a town in the middle.

Figure 1. Water vulnerability depends on a combination of hydrology and social resilience. Densely populated subbasins (top photo) face contrasting challenges to sparsely populated and highly agricultural subbasins (bottom photo). Differences may include precipitation variability and dominance of low-elevation snowpack, economic dependence on natural resources, and poverty rates. Photos: Top – Portland, Oregon, Wikipedia user Truflip99 under CC BY-SA 4.0; Bottom – A town in the Palouse, Washington, Lynn Suckow under CC BY-SA 2.0.

However, climate change has begun to challenge water resources by increasing temperatures, decreasing snowpack, and altering the timing and amount of available water (Regonda et al. 2005). Current water management systems are designed around historical norms and trends that are rapidly becoming outdated, due to increasing climate variability and uncertainty about future resources. As a region, we now have to reconsider how best to plan around and adapt to expected change in order to reduce and avoid negative consequences to the overall food-energy-water system and to community well-being. But where is such adaptation planning particularly urgent? We synthesized data from across the Northwest to answer this question. Continue reading

Greenhouse Production of Vegetables: Implications for the Region

By Fidel Maureira, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Washington State University

Dense rows of pepper plants in a greenhouse, on either side of a set of rails

Figure 1. Greenhouse production facility for bell peppers. Photo: Fidel Maureira.

Greenhouse agricultural production currently accounts for 1 to 2% of the agricultural production in the Unites States, but is rapidly growing. The value of this greenhouse production has increased 44% in the last years, and the number of operators has gone up by 71%. Large retailers have a significant interest in this technology, given the benefits of consistency in quality, flavor, and production volume, the potential for year-round supply, consumer preferences for local supply, and the perception that greenhouse production can be more sustainable than traditional production, with more efficient use of resources. New, larger, commercial operations tend to be concentrated around bigger cities to satisfy those local needs. This trend is true in other parts of the world as well, including neighboring Canada. What would greenhouses mean in the Pacific Northwest, if they are broadly adopted?

Continue reading