Water in all of its forms from glaciers to raging rivers, from alpine lakes to wetlands, from seasonal creeks to reservoirs is a vital resource to the communities and ecology of Cascadia. How potential changes in our local and regional climate may impact the timing and availability of water has implications for the suite of interests that depend on this resource.
Water holds a multiplicity of different values to the Cascadia region through fueling hydroelectricity, irrigating agriculture, offering a basis for recreation, sustaining cultural traditions, providing habitat for aquatic species, and drinking water for people and wildlife. It is the life-blood of any ecosystem and shapes not only the topography that constitutes the landscape but also the biodiversity and organisms within the ecosystem. In a region as diverse as Cascadia, water shapes the landscape through means of meandering rivers and mammoth glaciers to create a landscape as variable as the species that call it home. The seasonal fluctuations in the availability of water drives the lifecycles of many species within Cascadia. From sockeye salmon that use the rivers to spawn, to the bears that depend on this boon of fish to raise their young and survive the winter. In addition to its ecological role, water is a fundamental resource for communities in the form of drinking water, energy production, agricultural irrigation, and the numerous recreational activities it provides. It has long been a primary first food recognized by area tribes and First Nations.
As such a multi-purposed asset, water and its conservation is of utmost importance for the sustained ecosystem health of Cascadia. In the face of climate change, changes in hydrology are affecting the water cycle at all stages with needs to closely look at anticipated impacts in the quality and quantity of this valued resource. Due to the large scale and diversity within Cascadia, climate change will impact hydrology differently throughout the region but in general it will likely result in reduced snowpack and lower summer streamflows, worsening the existing competition for water. Therefore adaptation actions to increase watershed health that influence the quantity and quality of water in Cascadia including the connectivity of our waterways is of high importance to our partner forum.
Additional water resources
- Pacific Northwest Climate Change and Water – Environmental Protection Agency
- Climate Change Effects and Adaptation Approaches in Freshwater Aquatic and Riparian Ecosystems in the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative Region. National Fish and Wildlife Federation, 2011.
- Assessing water resources adaptive capacity to climate change impacts in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Publication by Climate Impacts Group. 2010
- Climate Adaptation in Action: Methow Beaver Project working to improve local natural water storage as well as increase riparian habitat, reduce stream temperatures, restore stream complexity, and capture sediment in the north central Washington.
- Regionally relevant policy discussions: Columbia River Treaty. The United States and Canada began negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty regime in May 2018.