Sitka Technology Group

Our Take On RRNW 2017

Once again we left River Restoration Northwest's annual symposium inspired and appreciative of the community we get to work with.

This year Damon, Keith, and I enjoyed the talks in the big room and conversations in the halls and over meals. Hearing about what folks in the Pacific Northwest and around the country are doing to help conserve and restore rivers gives us additional context with which to evolve and improve the tools and systems we build.

RRNW 2017

One particularly engaging and impressive talk was by Bart Nijssen of University of Washington titled “The Columbia River in the 21st Century:  Projections of Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Columbia River.” Bart shared the results from a 3+ year research study, commissioned by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), to answer some fundamental questions about the potential impacts of climate change on the river. Thankfully the study didn’t stop there, but it also delved into the potential impacts of various methodological choices BPA and its partners could make in operating the hydropower system. To do this, Bart and his team created a matrix of permutations or “ensembles” of various climate change assumptions, models, and downscaling approaches, and they ran models of each based on the existing network of 396 flow gauges throughout the basin. We’re talking HUGE numbers and pretty serious computational demands to run the models. Bart did a phenomenal job presenting the results in an incredibly succinct way, with some powerful visualizations. The elegance of the presentation almost overcame the soberness of the issue – things will be changing significantly for all of us, our children, and our children’s children.

We also appreciated Barbara Cosens talk on the “Columbia River and the Columbia River Treaty,” which reminded us of the Columbia River’s uniqueness. While the Colorado River system can store 400-500% of its annual flow and the Mississippi 200%, the Columbia River system can only store 40%. That’s thin margin to full head, and it highlights the importance and value the Treaty provides for flood control, transportation, irrigation, tribal rights, and ecosystem functions. Speaking of, thanks to Barbara for calling attention to the seminal 2010 one-pager, “Common Views on the Future of the Columbia River Treaty." For more on Barbara’s writings on this topic, see the brilliant article she wrote in 2012, “Resilience and Water Governance:  Adaptive Governance in the Columbia River Basin."