7. Climate change


Better understand how the effects of climate change may impact fish and wildlife populations and mitigation and restoration efforts implemented under the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. Evaluate fish and wildlife investments and their ability to perform in the face of future climate conditions.


Climate records show that the Pacific Northwest has warmed about 1 ºC since 1900, or about 50 percent more than the global average warming over the same period. The warming rate for the Pacific Northwest over the next half century is projected to be in the range of +0.2-0.9° C per decade. Projected annual precipitation changes for the region over the next few decades are relatively modest and unlikely to be distinguishable from natural variability. Projected future changes in temperature and precipitation will alter the snow pack, stream flow, and water quality in the Columbia Basin with the following anticipated impacts:

  • Warmer temperatures will result in more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow
  • Snowpack will diminish, particularly in lower-elevation watersheds, and stream flow timing will be altered
  • Peak river flows will likely shift to earlier in the spring
  • Water temperatures will continue to rise

These temperature and hydrologic changes are expected to have a variety of interrelated impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the Columbia River Basin. The Council recognizes the need to assess and, where necessary, respond to the impacts of climate change, which could threaten the program’s past and ongoing investments in habitat improvements in the Columbia River Basin.


Future planning and implementation should include explicit consideration of the possible effects of climate change on the focal habitats and fish and wildlife populations, using adaptive management principles.

It is uncertain whether climate change will alter the suite of habitat actions the program implements; however, adaptive management is the appropriate way to respond to changes in climate.

General measures

The federal action agencies, in coordination and collaboration with others, shall:

  • Support the development of improved runoff forecasting methods and techniques for Columbia River Basin watersheds
  • Work to provide early (e.g., late fall or early winter) runoff forecasts for the Columbia River Basin
  • Continue to encourage, monitor, and promote public awareness of pertinent climate change research and information and assess how it should influence program mitigation efforts
  • Assess whether climate change effects are altering or are likely to alter critical river flows, water temperatures or other habitat attributes in a way that could significantly affect fish or wildlife important to this program, either directly or by affecting the success of current mitigation efforts and if so, evaluate whether alternative water management scenarios, including changes in flood control operations, could minimize the potential effects of climate change on mainstem hydrology and water temperatures
  • Evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of possible actions to mitigate effects of climate change, including selective withdrawal from cool/cold water storage reservoirs to reduce water temperatures or other actions to create or protect cool water refugia in mainstem reaches or reservoirs
  • Identify and evaluate management and mitigation options for fish and wildlife under various climate-change scenarios
  • Assess and revise, if necessary, ongoing monitoring efforts to ensure collection of necessary data on key species responses, interactions, and productivity under future climate scenarios
  • Implement long-term habitat protections for resident fish and wildlife in the basin
  • Identify and implement a strategic expansion of the network of stations for surface weather and streamflow observations in high-altitude mountainous areas of the Columbia Basin
  • Investigate the feasibility of mitigating climate change impacts in the estuary and plume through changes in hydrosystem operations, including changes in flood-control operations

Other general measures

  • Variations in regional climate and ocean conditions play a large role in the survival of anadromous fish and other native species in the Columbia River Basin. Management actions shall strive to help those species accommodate a variety of climate and ocean conditions by providing a wide range of life history strategies. The Council supports the federal action agencies, in coordination and collaboration with others, monitoring salmon returns and climate-change impacts on ocean conditions in order to identify factors affecting survival in the near-ocean and plume environments.
  • The Council supports ongoing studies and development of assessment methods by the federal action agencies and others. Further, the Council requests other entities to collaborate with the federal action agencies on this work.
  • The Council, in collaboration with the federal action agencies, shall convene one or more science/policy workshops on climate change effects in the Columbia Basin, including panels of climate change scientists, to inform an overarching climate change strategy for the Columbia Basin.
  • The Council continues to encourage, monitor, and promote public awareness of pertinent climate change research and information and assess how it should influence program mitigation efforts.
  • The Council continues to require project sponsors to consider and plan for different climate change scenarios that could affect their work.

Link to subbasin plans

See the Council’s subbasin plans for subbasin-level information pertaining to climate change and its effects.

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8. Mainstem hydrosystem flow and passage operations →

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