Idaho 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Idaho.  This forecast is going to complete our state-level breakdown for the Northwest region.  In Idaho, we’ve got a slightly different picture than the rest of the region, and (1052) you can see that the natural resource economy in Idaho is tremendous, the biggest proportionally in the Northwest, and tremendously important to our national security.  We’re talking about 32 billion dollars a year in natural resources, including agriculture.

Looking at the outlook for the Northwestern region as a whole, if you’ve watched that regional forecast you know we’re dealing with a big chaos factor.  In the Northwest we’re expecting more extreme events, more frequently, than in the rest of the country.  Idaho is facing that extra level of year to year uncertainty, alongside Oregon and Washington.  But Idaho, even more than the other states in the Northwest, needs to know what to expect around its water future.  I tried to go pretty deep to get you the best info I could find about what you can expect for Idaho’s water future.  As we put together all the info we’ll need to understand Idaho’s water outlook, we’re going to talk about quite a few different facets of the problem.  Those will include changes in summer and winter temperatures, and changes seasonal precipitation patterns.  Those will help us understand the projected changes to the snowpack, which, just to say it, they’re not as dire as you might fear.  This will get us the background we need to talk about the whole water picture.

First, let’s look at that summer heat.  There’s a big heatup here, but it’s far from the worst total picture we’ve seen.

            HEAT- better conservation to the north, not the worst total picture we’ve seen.  Real hot belt by Boise.  Not bad summer high elevation conservation.

Central Idaho, where we have that big warming trend, I’m sure you all know that is already happening.  I hear you’ve been hit bad by the pine beetles, big dead wood, big wildfire risk.  So as we look at that belt of projected warming by Boise, we gotta keep things in perspective.  It’s bad, but it’s not shocking.  Gotta get out of the fear, and move towards action.  We know more heat means a need for more water, and with water being a limiting resource here, we gotta think differently about water.  And Boise is already on it.

The city of Boise has already got a plan in place for a really smart water treatment approach.  They’re innovating by treating for phosphorus- removing it now instead of waiting up upgrade in 10 years like other cities.  There’s hope that this will prevent downstream algae blooms, toxic algae blooms, and Boise is willing to test this out.  Those toxic algae blooms, we anticipate they’ll be a bigger problem in the warmer conditions by midcentury, we alreadyhave seen it happen in Ohio, and Boise isn’t going to wait and see if their downstream water is going to be fouled.  Boise is protecting Idaho’s water from these threats. 

Very smart.  Very resilient.  But, we gotta build a bigger picture, let’s get back to work, take a look at winter lows, through the proxy of plant hardiness zones.

            HARDI- not bad, not bad winter high elevation conservation.  Also more stability to the Spokane adjacent region than down by Boise. 

            Idaho Falls, looking at pretty serious level of change, big seasonal shift- keeping the cold pretty good, but getting hotter in the summer.  This might be a place to watch for extreme weather trends, big possibility of intense winds in the spring and fall. 

Overall, I have to say, this map shows some notable high-elevation cold preservation.  Much better than we see in many other western states.  That cold preservation is so crucial for the winter sports.  And I do have some good news on that front.  The Feds are predicting Idaho will hold out longer for skiable winters than Washington (1054).  The cultural, the recreational, the economic benefits of winter sports, Idaho has among the best forecast in the nation for preserving these in high elevation areas.  Low elevation areas, like Silver Mountain, I know you’ve already been struggling.  But it’s tough all over, and many places that are ski destinations today are not going to make it another ten, fifteen years.  So if you are in a high-elevation ski community in Idaho, you should see this forecast and see a big opportunity.  Your potential for economic growth is enormous. 

But, we need some more information to really see what’s going to happen with the snowpack.  We’ve got our high and low points for the year, but we want to know how that’s going to impact the winter and spring precipitation, how it’s going to affect the growing season.  Now, some regions, the national climate assessment gives us predicted changes to the growing season down to the week, but we don’t have that for the Northwest.  However, we can get kind of a peek by checking out what’s expected on the Montana side of the mountains, I figure it’s better to get some idea than no idea.  Peek at 960 for the Montana side of the mountains, 959 for warming and cooling trends. 

Looking at winter/spring precipitation, Idaho is likely to be in an area of statistically significant increase

But it is likely that’s going to fall as rain, rather than snow, particularly at lower elevations.

Overall water picture, we’re looking at big water changes.  We are anticipating increased water need, increased water demand.  The snowpack is going to decrease because of these warming trends, and we’ll see more spring precipitation, which will probably lead to spring flooding as that precipitation, falling mostly as rain, particularly in the lower elevations, contributes to early melting of the snowpack.

So there’ll be a lot of water in the spring and early summer, and then the streamflows will decrease as we get into the midsummer through the fall.  Right now, you get your peak streamflows in June or July, right?  They’re projected to hit peak at March by midcentury.  Really transformational, huge change in the water patterns.  Water storage during that time of plenty in the spring, it’s going to be totally crucial for your operations throughout the rest of the growing season.  And for landscapes, ecosystems, and crops that currently rely on surface water, there’s no denying it.  You’re looking at big changes.

Scientists who focus in on the water, they think Idaho is looking at up to a third reduction in crop productivity.  It might not be that bad, they’re saying a 32 percent drop is the upper limit.  To give some perspective, there are parts of the country with an abundant water outlook where agricultural scientists are forecasting big drops in productivity of staple crops, like corn and soy, but there are hot weather crops that we could start growing in those places.  Crops like millet that are staple foods in other parts of the world now, those kinda crops could help make up the food shortfall in other parts of the country.  But Idaho, almost all the projected production drops are related to the water picture.  We can’t necessarily get around that by growing new crops, and so much of Idaho’s agricultural profit and production comes from the dairy and cattle industries.  There’s no big way around water shortages in those industries. 

However, with land use changes, and changes in how we capture that peak flow of water in the spring.  Get it into the groundwater- and the whole Snake River system is a good aquifer for this sort of recharge, real close relationship between the surface and groundwater- we could offset some of these production drops with irrigation.  This possibility is brought up in a delightfully hardcore paper, I’m gonna share the link here

If you like going deep, this is a serious publication right here, the statistical modeling is not only so tight, the work they did to lay out their factor analysis and data sourcing, is so much clearer than I see in a lot of climate-related work.  Big props to Adam, Lowe, and Xu, I love the depth and the accessibility of this paper.

I have one other water issue to talk about, and that is single source water systems.  This is an alert for people who are on single source wells.  If you’re on one of these, the feds don’t have access to good data on you, like they do for people in Washington state, and you’re not going to get the same level of warning that those folks might about what’s going on with your water table.  If you’re on a single source well, you know that you’re vulnerable to a drop in the water table.  As you’re getting your household ready, preparing for a resilient future, you wanna know what you’re dealing with with your well, because you are not in a state where you can expect someone else to do it for you.  If your well is older, if your well is shallow, improvements are expensive, but the water table outlook for Idaho is not terrifying.  You should consider putting money away, get that pipe deep, improve your odds you can hold out if the state shifts more towards irrigation-based agriculture. 

            So, let’s pull this together.  From a climate perspective, you’re looking at some bigger baseline changes than your neighbors to the west, and you are in the Northwestern chaos zone where you should expect more frequent drought and deluge years than other parts of the country.  Be prepared for flood in the spring.  That’ll get intense by mid-century, and you’ll want to store that abundant water in the spring.  Also, there’s going to be elevated wildfire risk in Idaho until all that dead pine burns out, but you knew that already. 

            However, I don’t see this picture as totally grim.  Because unlike many water-limited states, you are looking at a forecast that includes an increase in precipitation.  And you’ve got some unusually rechargeable aquifers.  And I know you all are capable of innovation, of serious adaptation, to changing conditions.  It’s not like Idaho is one of the states that is used to having a pleasant climate, let’s get real.  You all are tough, and as you prepare for these changing water and temperature conditions by midcentury, I think plenty of you can see there’s enough slack in the system to have something to work with, to have some opportunities here.  You wanna work in irrigation?  That’s gonna be a growth industry.  And recreation, let me tell you.  Not every state has mountain areas with decent climate stability.  Not every state is keeping ANY potential for winter sports recreation.  You have big potential for increase in the tourism and recreation industries in the northern part of the state.  Some of your existing ski communities, higher elevation ski communities, you’re being federally recognized as having great outlooks compared to your neighbors all around. 

            Idaho, I’m rooting for you.  I hope you can use this information to get ready, keep those agricultural yield drops as low as possible.  Because I know how much America needs you, and the work you all do every day.  I’m grateful to you.

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.