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Managing the Columbia River: Instream Flows, Water Withdrawals, and Salmon Survival
study would increase July withdrawals from their current value of roughly 6.8 percent of mean Columbia River flows to roughly 8.6 percent. Under minimum July flow conditions, the effects would be greater: the upper end of the proposed range of diversions would increase current July withdrawals from roughly 16.6 to 21 percent of Columbia River minimum flows.
The seasonality of Columbia River flows and changing demand patterns for additional water from various users in different parts of the river basin suggest that sound water management decisions require a comprehensive basinwide water management scheme. Ideally, the management framework would have the flexibility to respond to the seasonality of Columbia River flows and have the flexibility to responsibly transfer water from lower-value to higher-value uses. Increased flexibility in managing the Columbia River will require greater emphasis on nontraditional approaches to augmenting water supplies, such as water marketing and water transfers, and greater cooperation of political entities across the basin. These market-based programs may require capital investments in physical infrastructure and human resources investments in experts with skills in fields such as finances, marketing, and public administration. Programs such as water transfers, groundwater banking, and other measures to increase the efficiency of water use hold promise in helping sustain the regional economy in ways that do not require ever-increasing water withdrawals. Although water uses across the basin should not be simply channeled to the highest bidders for water, such measures hold promise for helping support both economic and environmental goals and should be carefully considered.
A key problem in managing the basin’s water is that water permitting decisions are currently made in a piecemeal fashion, with little to no consideration of their effects on other users or their degree of consistency with other decisions across the basin. If water resources and risks to salmon survival are to be better managed, Columbia River water permitting decisions must be made in a more holistic fashion, with consideration of how additional diversions would affect other users and sectors across the entire river basin. A joint forum composed of Columbia River basin entities would allow for more accurate inventorying, monitoring, and enforcement of existing water rights. There is also a need for stronger efforts toward water conservation and market-based management strategies, which could help reduce present