New Tool and Knowledge to Aid Columbia Basin Water Managers

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Water managers in eastern Washington now have access to the first U.S. Geological Survey computer model of the East Pasco Basin, allowing them to simulate “what-if” groundwater management scenarios, according to a USGS report.

TACOMA, Wash. — Water managers in eastern Washington now have access to the first U.S. Geological Survey computer model of the East Pasco Basin, allowing them to simulate “what-if” groundwater management scenarios, according to a USGS report.

Since 1952, water diverted from the Columbia River has been used to irrigate parts of the Pasco Basin in eastern Washington. As a result, irrigation return flow and canal leakage have caused groundwater levels to rise in some areas and contributed to landslides, particularly along the Columbia River. Water managers are considering additional withdrawals of the irrigation-fed groundwater to supply increasing demand and possibly alleviate problems caused by the increased water levels.

In cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington Department of Ecology, the USGS defined the extent of aquifers in the area, and estimated the locations and quantity of groundwater recharge and pumping. Based on this knowledge, the USGS developed a computer model to quantify the additional groundwater stored in the aquifer system and simulate the potential effects of several management scenarios on groundwater levels. 

The report, "Simulation of Groundwater Storage Changes in the Eastern Pasco Basin, Washington," by Charles E. Heywood, Sue C. Kahle, Theresa D. Olsen, James D. Patterson, and Erick Burns, is published as U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5026, available online. More information about the USGS study can be found here.

For over 100 years, the USGS Washington Water Science Center has been investigating the water resources of the state. The data we collect are essential for a reliable supply of safe drinking water, protection from floods and other natural disasters, hydroelectric power, agriculture, manufacturing, recreation and the environment.