Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018ID219B

Toward Understanding Current and Future Pressures on Water Supply/Use in the Eastern Snake Plain: Spatial Patterns of Drought, Sectorial Competition, Excess Nutrients and Water-Energy Interconnections

Institute: Idaho
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $30,028

Principal Investigators: Karen Humes, John Abatzoglou

Abstract: The Eastern Snake River Plain region in Idaho is typical of many western regions experiencing ever-increasing demand on available water resources, while at the same time facing increasing uncertainty in climate and hydroclimatologic processes. Climate variablity impacts water availability through changes in snowpack, timing of snowmelt/runoff and frequency of drought. Water users and communities are already experiencing the impacts of water demand exceeding water availability. A significant delivery call resulted in a historic settlement in southern Idaho occurred when senior water right holders (the Surface Water Coalition (SWC) made up of irrigation districts and canal companies) were not able to receive their full water right allotment and made a delivery call on the more junior water right holders (the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (IGWA) made up of water districts, irrigation districts, and municipalities). At the same time, expansion of dairy operations, associated shifts to water-intensive crops such as alfalfa, expansion of dairy-related food processing operations and associated growth in semi-urban areas have placed additional pressures on both water demand and water quality. Additionally, the Eastern Snake River Plain (ESRP) is a region in which the interconnections between water and energy supply and use are particularly strong, due to the reliance on hydropower for electricity generation, the large energy costs associated with pumping for irrigated agriculture and significant presence of water-energy intensive industries such as food processing. Interdependencies between water and energy use constitute additional vulnerability in times of water scarcity. Water quality is also an integral part of water availability and water/energy nexus due to the energy demands for treating water to levels appropriate to its use, as well as the ability to use wastewater for aquifer recharge. Water managers, policy makers, agroindustries and municipal officials would all benefit from tools that assist in understanding the linkages and trade-offs between water, energy and land use (including conversion from agricultural to domestic and industrial uses) and water quality. The overarching goal of this project is to contribute to a better understanding of current and future pressures on water supply and demand in the Eastern Snake River by quantifying the interdependencies among water and energy use, land use, population and potential growth of water and/or energy-intense industries. Toward this end, two specific objectives will be pursued, with associated timelines for major tasks: 1) Estimate the frequency of drought occurrence in southern Idaho in the future, using information on drought occurrence in the last 15 years and downscaled climate forecast data. 2) Improve our understanding of the spatial networks involved in the current provision, use and treatment of water in different sectors and begin to quantify interconnections between water and energy use in different sectors (irrigated agriculture, dairies, industry, residential), as well as land use, population and water quality in the Eastern Snake River plain. These interconnections will be captured in a preliminary systems dynamics model that can be used as a tool to understand the interactions and trade-offs for decisions related to land use, cropping, irrigation, food production/processing and water/energy use.