Category Archives: Variability, Weather, & Extreme Events

Top Articles from 2022 Show the Breadth and Diversity of Topics in AgClimate.net

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, and AgClimate Lead Editor

Word cloud from 2022 article titles, with 2022 Top Reads! overlaid2022 has come to a close, and 2023 seems to have revved up and is roaring along. We are still early enough in the year, though, to look back on 2022 and reflect on what you, our readers, found worthy of your time and attention. Here are the three most read 2022 articles, and three still-popular articles from earlier years. It is worth taking a look. I was struck by the breadth of topics and production systems these articles discuss, which is reflective of the variety in the Pacific Northwest that we explicitly try to cover in AgClimate.net. All these articles also have something in common: they discuss science-based resources that can help agricultural and natural resource professionals understand the implications of a changing climate, and explore options to be better prepared for the future. That is what AgClimate.net is about. Enjoy these top reads in 2022! Continue reading

Water Markets in Washington State: What if Leasing Part of a Water Right Was Allowed?

By Rajendra Khanal, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah

 

Top: corn crop under center pivot, with arid slopes in background. Bottom: green irrigated wheat crop

Farmers growing crops such as wheat and corn might be more interested in leasing some – rather than all – of their water to support instream flows in times of water scarcity, which are likely to occur more frequently as the climate changes. Photo: WSDA under CC BY-NC 2.0 (corn) and Rajendra Khanal (wheat).

If you are a Washington agricultural producer who has a water right and wants to lease your water to another user, you are currently allowed to either lease your entire water right and fallow your land (that is, not use any of the water yourself) or not lease and use your full water right for crop production. The option of leasing a part of your water right (partial leasing) does not exist.

Introducing an option for partial leasing could make more farmers willing to participate in water markets, and thus expand markets’ potential as a tool for meeting diverse water needs, especially as climate change increases the likelihood that water supplies won’t be sufficient to meet all demands, all the time. For example, farmers might lease some of their water to support instream flows in times of water scarcity, which are likely to occur more frequently as the climate changes. Although there are a number of challenges that would need to be overcome to make partial leasing a reality (I discuss those later), we started by asking the question of whether the potential benefits of partial leasing are big enough to make it worth bothering to invest the time and money it would take to overcome those challenges. Continue reading

ANNOUNCEMENT: Water Year Impacts Survey

Evening sky, with a center pivot over an agricultural field in the foregroundHappy 2023 Water Year! Now that the wet and dry swings of water year 2022 are complete, we want to hear from you! How was the Pacific Northwest Impacted?

We encourage you to fill out the Water Year Impact Survey. The goal of this survey is to gather information about impacts and response actions that were implemented during the 2022 water year (October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022) due to either abnormally dry or abnormally wet conditions.

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and your responses are vital for informing both the Water Year meeting and PNW Water Year Impacts Assessment.

We greatly appreciate your contributions!

If you are interested in learning more about the Water Year and the results from this survey, we encourage you to register for this year’s virtual Water Year meeting on October 25th and 26th.
Full Survey Link: https://forms.gle/U6NsdVsEYGygGhYw7

Deficit Irrigation Conserves Water in Agriculture to Aid in Combating Water Stress

By Sarah Davis, Intern at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

A group of red apples, showing a sticker labeling them from Chelan

Washington state produce can be found in supermarkets across the world. These Chelan apples were found in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Flickr user Dennis Sylvester Hurd, under CC0 1.0 Universal

Washington State has nearly 15 million acres of farmland with around 39,000 operating farms, each producing necessary agricultural commodities. A few of the most well-known crops that are produced and distributed from Washington State are apples, cherries, hops, raspberries, and pears. Even when traveling across the country, I can find Chelan apples, which shows just how productive the state is in their cultivation of high value foods. Many of the 39,000 operating farms require irrigation to produce much of the aforementioned fruit that get distributed far and wide, which consumes a large portion of water resources. Continue reading

Check it out: High Temperatures are Threatening Pollination of Crops in the Pacific Northwest

By Sarah Davis, Intern at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Close up of bee on blossom

Pollination is key for all crops to survive and produce seeds, fruit, and grains. Photo: Flickr user Conall under CC BY 2.0

Throughout the last year, I have spent hours researching and writing about molecular techniques to combat heat and drought stress in agricultural crops while completing my undergraduate capstone project. So, when I found an article describing how the integrity of pollen is threatened by increasing temperatures, it seemed extremely relevant to both my project as well as my new internship at Washington State University where I am researching sustainable ways to address climate change impacts on tree fruit.

Continue reading

Water Markets’ Potential for Addressing Drought, Water Availability

By Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

sockeye fish in river, center pivot irrigating field, mostly dry river bed with narrow flow of water at the bottom

Water markets is one potential tool for moving water between uses such as instream water for sockeye in the Yakima Basin (top left; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology) or irrigating crop fields (top right; photo: Aspect Consulting). Such movement can be particularly important when flows are low (Walla Walla River runs low late in the irrigation season (bottom; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology).

As climate change increases the likelihood of a mismatch in the timing of when water is needed and when it is available, policymakers, water managers, and water users are exploring water markets as one potential tool to move water between uses. Water markets facilitate the voluntary transfer of water between sellers and buyers, on either a temporary (lease) or permanent (sale) basis. To some this has meant water is accessible for crops during drought or for new housing developments. For fish, it may mean more water instream that enhances survival.

And yet, water markets are not quite as simple as other markets (say, the grocery store). There are lots of features of water that make purchasing it different than buying a loaf of bread. Continue reading

Cleaning Stormwater with Sequestered Carbon

By Chelsea Mitchell, PhD candidate, Washington State University, Washington Stormwater Center*

 

Runoff entering a bioretention system via a curb cut

Figure 1. Bioretention systems are designed to drain and filter stormwater runoff. Credit Carly Thompson, WSU Puyallup.

Stormwater runoff has become one of the greatest environmental challenges we face in western Washington, a region with heavy rainfall and widespread urbanization. In parts of the landscape dominated by impervious surfaces, such as roads, buildings, and parking lots, rainfall is not able to infiltrate the ground (Figure 1). Instead, the resulting runoff picks up pollutants, causes flooding and changes our waterways. These issues are expected to become more severe with population growth and climate change.

There is a bright spot on the horizon, though. A charcoal-like product known as biochar has potential to address these issues when used in stormwater management. Biochar is formed when biomass is heated under low or no oxygen conditions in a process called pyrolysis. By limiting the oxygen level, you limit combustion and the release of carbon dioxide during biochar production. The resulting material has a stable, carbon-rich structure which resists being degraded for hundreds to thousands of years, keeping the carbon locked in place. Continue reading

Adapting to Climate Change in the Yakima Basin: Agriculture’s Volatility and Tradeoffs

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

field seen under the arm of a central pivot irrigation system

Fifty percent of the Yakima Basin’s agriculture is irrigated. Photo: Vidar Mathisen, Unsplash.

The Yakima River Basin is a snow-dependent, agriculturally important region in Washington state, leading in production of many commodities and specialty crops. Nearly 50% of agricultural production in the Yakima Basin is irrigated, and is vulnerable to future expected temperature increases and severe droughts. Researchers at Cornell and Washington State Universities, led by Dr. Keyvan Malek, evaluated the impacts of changes in temperature, water availability, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on irrigated agriculture in this Basin and examined the effectiveness of potential strategies to mitigate the negative effects on crop yields.

Continue reading

Check it out: Learning for the Future from a Snapshot in Time

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Report cover with name and a photo of a vegetable field with slanting sunlight and trees in the background

The 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Assessment, an example of what we can learn one year that helps us prepare for the long term. Source: cover of the report, available at https://www.drought.gov/documents/2021-pacific-northwest-water-year-impacts-assessment

I just received the 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Impacts Assessment. If you want to delve into the details of how temperatures and precipitation evolved throughout the water year (which runs from October 1 through September 30), check out section 3. If you want to understand what the unusual combination of conditions we experienced meant for the agriculture, forestry, drinking water, fisheries, and recreation sectors, check out section 4. If you want to learn about institutional responses to these conditions, then check out section 5. You can even explore how well the seasonal forecasting used by many in the region did at predicting what actually happened (section 6).

This report really got me thinking about the question: what can we learn from the assessment of this one year (granted, it was an unusual year) that can help us prepare for what’s to come as the climate continues to warm? Continue reading

Extreme Adaptation: Navigating the Troubled Waters of the ‘New Normal’

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

 

Water. H 2 O. It’s the dominant molecule of our lives. We are 60% water (on average). Life as we know it is only possible because our planet has so much water. We can survive a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. The oceans are believed to have formed around 4 billion years ago, and so are nearly as old as the planet itself. The hydrologic cycle—the series of processes by which water evaporates from those oceans, condenses as clouds, and then returns to the earth as freshwater—forms the primary basis for our existence.

Map of the US, with most of the midwest and east showing increases in average precipitation, and most of the west, especially the southwest, showing decreases

Figure 1. Comparison of the ‘new normal’ annual precipitation averages (1991-2020) with the previous 30-year averages (1981-2010). Source: NOAA.

Water is actually the most important greenhouse gas: without water in the atmosphere, the average temperature of our planet would be around 0°F… a mammoth version of those chic, spherical ice ‘cubes.’ But the average temperature of the earth is 60°F and climbing. As the world’s oceans continue to warm, water evaporates more rapidly, and the hydrologic cycle accelerates. All that water must come back down somewhere, so annual precipitation levels across the planet are also increasing. Continue reading