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Watershed Planning Assistance

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ARCHIVE COPY - specific details may be out of date (archived May 2010)

While climate variability and change are driven by global-scale changes in the earth’s climate system, the impacts of climate variability and change and the difficult choices that must be made to manage those impacts are most acutely realized at the local scale.

Early consideration of climate impacts at the local level gives communities the opportunity to consider how local resources may be affected by climate variability and climate change, and how decisions made today can affect a community’s ability to respond to these changes. The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) is working to promote and support recognition of climate impacts in local watershed planning efforts. One program the CIG is actively involved with is Washington State’s Watershed Planning Program.


The Watershed Planning Program was established in 1998 by the Washington State legislature to provide both a framework and funding for voluntary development of watershed management plans by locally-based watershed planning units. Plans developed under the Watershed Planning Program must, at a minimum, address water quantity to qualify for state funding. Watersheds are also encouraged, but not required, to address instream flows, water quality, and habitat needs. Forty-two of 62 delineated Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs) in Washington State are currently participating in the Watershed Planning Program (Figure 1). The program is administered by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

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map - Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs).

Figure 1 Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs). Planning areas for the Watershed Planning Program are based on geographic sub-units known as Watershed Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs). WRIAs may include a single river basin, artificially designed segments of a basin, or an assemblage of smaller individual streams and rivers within a geographic area that never join together. Forty-two of the 62 delineated WRIAs in Washington State are currently participating in the Watershed Planning Program. WRIAs highlighted here are participating in Washington State’s Watershed Planning Program. Click here for a list of participating watersheds.

The Watershed Planning Program provides an important opportunity to begin assessing and addressing the potential impacts of climate change on Pacific Northwest (PNW) water resources at a watershed scale. The long-term perspective required by the program, the number of planning issues potentially affected by climate change, and the potential for binding agreements on water supplies, infrastructure, and instream flow targets point to the importance of recognizing climate impacts in these planning efforts (Figure 2).

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graph - Major watershed planning challenges as identified by Watershed Planning Leads (2002).

Figure 2 Major watershed planning challenges as identified by Watershed Planning Leads (2002). Thirteen major watershed planning challenges were identified by Washington State Watershed Planning Leads as drivers for local participation in the Watershed Planning Program. Climate change has the potential to impact eleven of these issues (circled), primarily through hydrologic changes (Whitely Binder 2002).

Interviews with Department of Ecology Watershed Planning Leads in the spring of 2002 provided important insight into the challenges to and opportunities for integrating climate change information into the watershed planning process. As a result of these interviews and the continued dialogue with Leads that the interviews have fostered, the CIG has been able to extend its support to watershed planning efforts. This includes the following:


For more information on planning for climate change at a watershed scale, please contact Lara Whitely Binder.

Selected References

Whitely Binder, L.C. 2006. Climate change and watershed planning in Washington State. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 42(4):915-926.

Whitely Binder, L.C. 2002. Watershed planning, climate variability, and climate change: Bringing global scale issues to the local level. Degree project, M.P.A., Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle.

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