Climate impacts report underscores need to protect, restore Northwest rivers, water resources

June 16th, 2009

<P>Amy Kober, 206-898-3864 (cell)</P>

Washington, DC – A national scientific report released by the White House on how climate change will impact water resources and other aspects of society underscores the need to prepare Northwest communities by protecting and restoring rivers and clean water, American Rivers said today.

The report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” shows that the Northwest will experience increased floods and water shortages at different times of the year, affecting the region’s economy and fish and wildlife. Specifically:

  • Declining springtime snowpack leads to reduced summer streamflows, straining water supplies. Throughout the region, earlier snowmelt will cause a reduction in the amount of water available during the warm season.
  • Higher cool season (October through March) temperatures cause more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow and contribute to earlier snowmelt. Increasing winter rainfall (as opposed to snowfall) is expected to increase winter flooding in relatively warm watersheds on the west side of the Cascades.
  • Some sensitive watersheds are projected to experience both increased flood risk in winter and increased drought risk in summer due to warming.
  • Salmon and other coldwater species will experience additional stresses as a result of rising water temperatures and declining summer streamflows. 

“Climate change impacts will be felt first and worst on our freshwater resources,” said Brett Swift, Northwest regional director for American Rivers.  “We need to protect and restore our rivers to safeguard communities against the impacts from floods and droughts, protect our clean water supplies, and restore the region’s salmon runs. By helping nature, we help ourselves.”

In Washington, American Rivers is part of the Water for Washington coalition, which works to advance collaborative and sustainable solutions to improve the state’s water management system for the benefit of fish, farms, and communities. The current state water management system is unprepared to help communities, farms and fish adapt to the negative effects that climate change will have on salmon and freshwater ecosystems, as well as on the livelihoods of many Washingtonians. The coalition is developing a water budget concept that incentivizes water conservation and efficiency, gets water instream for fish, and provides flexibility for farmers and local communities.

American Rivers is also working to protect and restore rivers across the region, to improve water quality and ensure fish, wildlife and people can continue to benefit from healthy rivers in an era of climate change. For example, removing four dams on the lower Snake River would improve salmon access to extensive high-elevation habitat in central Idaho, northeast Oregon, and southeast Washington that is likely to remain productive even in the face of a changing climate.

American Rivers urged communities to prepare for a changing climate by adopting the following approaches:

  1. Protect healthy landscapes like forests and small streams that naturally sustain clean water supplies.
  2. Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood waters and filter clean water.
  3. Repair natural water systems in urban settings to capture and use water more wisely, and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.

American Rivers also called on Congress to strengthen and pass climate change legislation that significantly reduces carbon emissions and dedicates funding to a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Fund to protect and restore healthy rivers and other natural resources that provide clean drinking water, flood protection, and boost communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change.

“We are at a transformational moment. We have seen that the same old 19th and 20th century approaches to water management simply aren’t fit for the challenges of this century,” said Swift. “It is time to embrace a 21st century approach to water that integrates green solutions, recognizes changing climatic conditions, and helps ensure clean water and healthy rivers for generations to come.”



About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

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