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Climate change impacts on water management and irrigated agriculture in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, USA


The Yakima River Reservoir system supplies water to ~180,000 irrigated hectares through the operation of five reservoirs with cumulative storage of ~30% mean annual river flow. Runoff is derived mostly from winter precipitation in the Cascade Mountains, much of which is stored as snowpack. Climate change is expected to result in earlier snowmelt runoff and reduced summer flows. Effects of these changes on irrigated agriculture were simulated using a reservoir system model coupled to a hydrological model driven by downscaled scenarios from 20 climate models archived by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. We find earlier snowmelt results in increased water delivery curtailments. Historically, the basin experienced substantial water shortages in 14% of years. Without adaptations, for IPCC A1B global emission scenarios, water shortages increase to 27% (13% to 49% range) in the 2020s, to 33% in the 2040s, and 68% in the 2080s. For IPCC B1 emissions scenarios, shortages occur in 24% (7% to 54%) of years in the 2020s, 31% in the 2040s and 43% in the 2080s. Historically unprecedented conditions where senior water rights holders suffer shortfalls occur with increasing frequency in both A1B and B1 scenarios. Economic losses include expected annual production declines of 5%–16%, with greater probabilities of operating losses for junior water rights holders.

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Correspondence to Julie A. Vano.

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Vano, J.A., Scott, M.J., Voisin, N. et al. Climate change impacts on water management and irrigated agriculture in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, USA. Climatic Change 102, 287–317 (2010).

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