Climate change and resource management in the Columbia River Basin


Cohen, S.J., Miller, K., Hamlet, A.F., Avis, W. 2000. Climate change and resource management in the Columbia River Basin. Water International 25(2): 253-272.


Scenarios of global climate change were examined to see what impacts they might have on transboundary water management in the Columbia River basin. Scenario changes in natural streamflow were estimated using a basin hydrology model. These scenarios tended to show earlier seasonal peaks, with possible reductions in total annual flow and lower minimum flows. Impacts and adaptation responses to the natural streamflow scenarios were determined through two exercises: (a) estimations of system reliability using a reservoir model with performance measures and (b) interviews with water managers and other stakeholders in the Canadian portion of the basin.

Results from the two exercises were similar, suggesting a tendency towards reduced reliability to meet objectives for power production, fisheries, and agriculture. Reliability to meet flood control objectives would be relatively unchanged in some scenarios but reduced in others. This exercise suggests that despite the high level of development and management in the Columbia, vulnerabilities would still exist, and impacts could still occur in scenarios of natural streamflow changes caused by global climate change. Many of these would be indirect, reflecting the complex relationship between the region and its climate.