Study: Climate affects aquifer

BSU professor spent 10 months analyzing impact on water source

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Maybe you think climate change is a bunch of hooey, or that it only impacts polar bears.

But some like Dr. Venkataramana Sridhar think it will affect resources a little closer to home.

Like our drinking water.

The assistant professor of civil engineering at Boise State University has recently completed a study on how climate change will impact the Rathdrum-Prairie Aquifer over the next 50 years.

"There are no questions about these changes. It's going to happen," said Sridhar, who will be presenting his study on Monday at the Coeur d'Alene Public Library. "We are now looking to see how we can adapt and modify and mitigate these impacts."

Sridhar discovered a range of potential effects global warming will have on the aquifer in his 10-month study, which included analyzing global climate models and a hydrology model.

"We look at rainfall, time magnitude of snow melt, variability in water balance components, soil moisture and recharge," he said.

He has predicted several different scenarios, ranging from conservative to extreme.

Temperature at the aquifer, for instance, could increase between .31 to .4 degrees celsius per decade.

"You see a big range of variability, but all of them (the possible scenarios) show that there is a trend in increase," Sridhar said.

His study also predicts between 4 and 5 percent increase in precipitation, or roughly an extra inch a year - which might be melted away by the temperature change, he acknowledged.

The snow melt timing is also predicted to shift, with the peak melt occurring in April instead of May.

That could cause changes in hydrological flows, Sridhar said.

"We're talking about high flows that might be higher than historically high flows. Low flows might be lower or the same as seen today," he said.

There will also be increased magnitude of stream flows, he said, and a change in the recharge pattern.

Locals will have to adapt, he said.

"If we can see a way to save and store the melt that's happening and make it available to the growing season for the low flow season, I think that's going to really help alleviate the problems," he said.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources hired Sridhar to conduct the study as part of its new program, CAMP, the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan.

The state will use studies like Sridhar's to prepare for potential water management issues down the road, said Helen Harrington, manager of the IDWR water planning section.

"It (climate change) is not really an issue of concern, so much as being sure you're planning for a range of potential changes that could occur," Harrington said. "If there's a potential change in precipitation, the temperature can affect both supply and demand on crops. If we look at what that range of change may be, we can look at how to address that, and in 10 years we can revisit that and say, 'Well, was that forecasting on the mark, or do we need to adjust some of these strategies?'"

Regardless of what happens, she added, the state wants to be prepared for a crisis before it occurs.

"Water is the lifeblood of Idaho," she said. "The Rathdrum Prairie aquifer groundwater resources provides drinking water for the region. It's critical. You have to have that water to exist."

Bill Irving, president of the Coeur d'Alene chapter of the Climate Change Action Network, said the presentation will be interesting to everyone, whether or not they put stock in climate change.

"It's historic. There has never been a 50-year perspective on something as important as this, our aquifer," Irving said. "I just think it's well worth people's time to hear his presentation and ask questions. We're talking about not just now, but your kids' and grandkids' futures."

Sridhar has a Ph.D in biosystems engineering, a master's degree in water/irrigation engineering and management, and a bachelor's in agricultural engineering. He is a registered civil engineer.

The presentation is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

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