Diving into the science of water availability

How a new expert panel is working provide “policy-relevant” science

To make hard decisions, it’s important to try and answer the tough questions first. That’s why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is partnering with the Puget Sound Institute to convene a group of science experts to take on challenging water availability questions.

Over the next year, this science panel will address questions about the impacts of population growth and climate change on water availability and flows in streams and rivers. This work will help support decision makers in developing effective policies now and in the future.

Using science to improve policy

Last year, WDFW and Puget Sound Institute convened an advisory group of people from universities and tribal, federal, state, and county governments to identify science experts that represent a range of natural and physical sciences.

These experts were invited to join a new panel — a “dream team” of science professionals who will work together to answer critical questions about the impacts of population growth and climate change on water availability.

By focusing on “policy-relevant” science questions, the group will help decision makers avoid surprises and make policies more effective for people and the environment.

The science panel’s mission

  • Focus on science, and not on specific changes to instreams flow policy or changes to Washington water laws;
  • Provide information on potential problem areas and inform how the State can monitor to assess if protective measures are effective; and
  • Define scientific uncertainties and modeling needs related to population growth and climate change.

Key questions facing the panel

  • How will human demand for water in Washington change given projected increases in population growth?
  • Will instream water levels and/or temperatures no longer meet the needs of fish and wildlife?
  • Which river systems will be most affected and when? What are key knowledge gaps?

Planning for a changing future — what we’re facing

Growing evidence shows that climate change is greatly impacting our region’s ecological systems. Existing stressors like invasive species, pollution, floods, droughts, wildfires, and coastal erosion will worsen, and new stressors will further the threat to our ecological systems.

Lack of relevant scientific information for decision makers

It is important that key decision makers have easy access to relevant scientific evidence. Although a wide variety of research can exist on important topics, sifting through that research can take time. The goal of the new expert panel is to make it easier for decision makers to review the best available science applicable to important policy issues.

Drier summers and reduced snowfall

The reduced snowpack and water supply, along with increased agricultural and domestic water withdrawals, will greatly impact water availability. Rising stream temperatures and lower stream flows will reduce the quality and quantity of habitat for salmon and other aquatic species.

Warmer water temperatures

Water temperatures are increasing in freshwater rivers, lakes, and wetlands. By the 2080s, the average summer stream temperatures are projected to rise 9 degrees Fahrenheit. In many of Washington’s streams and lakes, the duration of periods that cause stress to salmon because of warmer temperatures and migration barriers is projected to at least double and perhaps quadruple by the 2080s.

Growing population

With the human population growing each year in Washington, there will be an ever-growing need for water. Where this water is needed the most and how it will be supplied may affect how much water is available for fish and wildlife.

Contact us to get involved

Margen Carlson, Habitat Program Director
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Timothy Quinn, Habitat Science Division Manager
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Nicholas Georgiadis, Senior Research Scientist
Puget Sound Institute

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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