Human Dimensions: Current Research

Snake River Economic Model



The Columbia Basin, consisting of the Snake and Columbia rivers and their tributaries, has come to support intensive utilization for irrigated agriculture and hydropower, and through these activities supports a major portion of the Pacific Northwest economy. One major feature of the Columbia, and more specifically the Snake, is that snowpack is historically significant in relation to total flow. Snowpack provides at least three major benefits:

  1. it feeds underground water courses resulting in springs and continuous summer flow in the river;
  2. it extends the availability of water over the summer for plants throughout the region; and
  3. it provides storage for the irrigation and hydro systems built during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Climate change is expected to result in a progressively smaller snowpack, and earlier runoff. In addition to biological and hydrologic effects, because the Snake does not have sufficient storage for total annual flow, earlier runoff will reduce water availability during the summer as well as increasing hydropower production at the time of year when it is least valuable. This project consists of modeling the flow of hydrologic and climate change on the Eastern Snake Plain and its aquifer through to impacts on agriculture and secondary impacts on the economies of the counties that lie above the aquifer. This portion of the Snake contributes approximately 40% of the flow of the Columbia system.

The model is expected to be useful in analyzing economic and water use impacts of climate change, particularly on southern Idaho irrigation. Expected users include the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute.

Primary Funding


Related Publications

For publications on the societal dimensions of climate impacts and adaptation in the PNW, please see CIG Publications.

Dreher, K. J., and N. C. Young. 2002. Eastern Snake River Plain Water Right Transfer Processing Procedures. Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Fiege, M. 1999. Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West. University of Washington Press.

Gertsch, W. D. 1974. The Upper Snake River Project: A Historical Study of Reclamation and Regional Development, 1890 – 1930. Dissertation, University of Washington.

Hamilton, J. R. 2001. “Pacific Northwest Water Markets, Promise and Problems,” Appendix B to Economics of Water Acquisition Projects, Independent Economic Analysis Board, Northwest Power Planning Council.

Huffaker, R, N. K. Whittlesey, and J. R. Hamilton. 2000. The Role of Prior Appropriation in Allocating Water Resources into the 21st Century, International Water Resources Development, June.

Miles, E. L, A. K. Snover and the Climate Impacts Group. (in review). Rhythms of Change: An Integrated Assessment of Climate Impacts on the Pacific Northwest.

Mote, P. W., E. A. Parson, A. F. Hamlet, K. G. Ideker, W. S. Keeton, D. P. Lettenmaier, N. Mantua, E. L. Miles, D. W. Peterson, D. L. Peterson, R. Slaughter, A. K. Snover. 2003. Preparing for Climatic Change: the Water, Salmon, and Forests of the Pacific Northwest. Climatic Change 61:45-88.

North, D. C. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge University Press.

Pisani, D. J. 1992. To Reclaim a Divided West: Water, Law, and Public Policy 1848-1902. University of New Mexico Press.

Pisani, D. J. 1996. Water, Land, and Law in the West. University Press of Kansas.

Slaughter, R. 2004. Institutional history of the Snake River, 1850-2004. Background paper prepared for the Climate Impacts Group.

Slaughter, R., A.F. Hamlet, D.D. Huppert, J. Hamilton, and P.W. Mote. 2010. Mandates vs. markets: Addressing over-allocation of Pacific Northwest river basins. Water Policy 12 (2010) 305317, doi: 10.2166/wp.2009.152.

Young, O. R. 2002. The Institutional Dimensions of Environmental Change. MIT Press.