Skip to main content


An Integrated Engineering and Economic Analysis of the Columbia River Treaty Renegotiation using Game Theory

In this project , we developed an integrated engineering and economic analysis of the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) using a game theory bargaining framework.  The CRT between Canada and the United States (1964) has three dams in Canada used to provide downstream flood control at the US request.  For this service, the US pays Canada an annual entitlement of half of the value of Columbia River Basin hydropower production.  Beginning in September 2014, each country can decide to remain in, withdraw, or renegotiate the treaty.

The objectives of this project were to (a) examine the current distribution of benefits among US and Canadian stakeholders under the current agreement and under potential alternatives, (b) examine the  strategic positions of each country in relation to renegotiation, and (c) characterize likely renegotiation outcomes.  The economic portion of the framework used an accounting of costs and benefits associated with different reservoir management regimes and an analysis of treaty negotiation within a game theoretic bargaining framework. The engineering analysis section consisted of the use of reservoir model to simulate the impact of different reservoir management regimes on various outcomes including flood control, hydropower generation, irrigation, and recreation.

The basic bargaining setting has changed substantially since 1964. The CRT infrastructure of storage reservoirs is now designed and built. The Port of Portland is now a primary beneficiary of flood control under the current treaty while the US energy sector now bears some cost from the Canadian Entitlement. Based on preliminary modeling, one potential outcome was that both countries remain in the treaty as-is but with a lump-sum transfer of benefits between stakeholders.  Other alternative operations are also possible.

For more information click here.

Arsenic Fate Following In-Situ Sulfate Reduction: Assessing the Sustainability of a Promising Groundwater Remediation Strategy

Arsenic contaminated groundwater is a global problem, negatively impacting the health of millions of people worldwide who rely on groundwater for drinking and irrigation purposes — including those who live in Washington State.  Given the prevalence and negative health consequences of arsenic-contaminated groundwater, it is important —at both the global and local scale— to develop robust and sustainable groundwater arsenic remediation strategies.  The objective of the proposed project was to advance understanding of the long term sustainability of arsenic removal from groundwater following field-scale application of induced microbial sulfate reduction with and without zerovalent iron (ZVI).

This project provided evidence of the sequestration mechanisms involved with the technique applied for field-scale remediation of arsenic in groundwater. In laboratory tests of induced sulfate reduction, arsenic has been removed from groundwater by adsorbing onto the surface of freshly formed, kinetically favored, amorphous iron monosulfide phases. Our field data, appears to be consistent with previous laboratory studies. At both of our locations, arsenic was associated with iron-sulfide phases, like mackinawite and amorphous FeS, but was not yet incorporated into pyrite.  At our site, treatment without ZVI was not effective at removing arsenic from groundwater, however, inclusion of ZVI successfully removed dissolved arsenic from groundwater over a multi-year period . Our data suggest that without ZVI, the aquifer did not have enough reducing power to stably sequester arsenic into the solid phase.

For more Information click here.

Bedload dynamics at the confluence of large rivers


Anthropogenic alterations to river systems are often in direct conflict with fluvial and ecological processes, especially at river confluences. This conflict is especially evident at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. The presence of a dam downstream of the confluence produces sediment deposition, which has adverse effects on the shipping navigability and the capacity of the rivers to pass floods. The historical solution to sedimentation at this location has been dredging despite known environmental impacts.  In response to a lawsuit in 2002, a programmatic management strategy was developed to address sediment-related problems. Sound science is now needed to evaluate remediation options and support decision making.

The long-term goal of the project is to improve the understanding of the relationship between flow and sediment dynamics and channel morphology at the confluence of large rivers and specifically improve sediment management and water quality for the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.  This project used state-of-the-art field procedures to directly measure three-dimensional flow velocity and bedload transport of coarse sediment. The results of these measurements supported (i) the development of a predictive model for flow and bedload transport, and (ii) the identification of regions where coarse sediment is likely to be deposited downstream of the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. This study will support future solutions to the complex challenges facing the lower Snake River system.

For more Information click here.

Black Carbon and Dust Deposition on South Cascade Glacier Since 1750 AD: Implications for the Timing and Availability of Water Resources in Washington State

Seasonal snowpack and glaciers provide an important source of water in Washington State, but in recent decades they have undergone substantial decline. Warming temperatures are commonly identified as the dominant cause of this decline, but the deposition of light absorbing impurities (LAI) onto snow and glacier surfaces can be an even larger driver of melt. LAI include black carbon (BC) produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil and biofuels, and dust emissions from desert regions and land use change. When deposited on highly reflective snow and glacier ice, LAI cause darkening of the surface, resulting in greater absorption of solar energy, heating of the snow/ice, and accelerated snow and glacier melt. We analyzed an ice core from South Cascade Glacier in the North Cascades of Washington State to assess variations in LAI deposited on snow and glacier surfaces since 1750 AD, and the associated implications on melt and the availability of water resources. The BC record is 75% complete, and the preliminary record indicates low background BC concentrations in the early 20th century, followed by approximately a magnitude increase in peak and background concentrations, and a subsequent reduction in BC at the top of the record. Concentrated BC layers in excess of 100 ng/g likely resulted from BC deposition from forest fire events. Once the dust analyses and dating are complete, we will be able to: determine the timing of LAI deposition on the glacier; assess the relative absorption of solar energy from dust versus BC; and evaluate the role of LAI in reducing glacier albedo in the context of glacier melt and water resources.

For more Information click here.

Climate Change Effects on Water Supply: Linkages Between Wildfire and Accelerated Snowmelt

In recent decades, reductions in the seasonal snowpack in Washington State have caused earlier runoff and decreased discharge to streams thus affecting the availability of water resources. A consequence of the earlier snowmelt is an increase in wildfire frequency, size, intensity and duration. This increase in fire activity augments snowmelt because decreased forest canopy in the post-fire environment causes an increase in snowpack net radiation, increasing the rate and advancing the timing of snowmelt. In addition, the deposition of burned woody debris from charred trees on the snowpack reduces snow albedo (reflectivity) and further accelerates snowmelt.  What is not known how this effect attenuates over time, how it varies with burn severity, or how black carbon (soot) from the charred trees contributes to reductions in snow albedo.

This study quantified the duration and magnitude of snowmelt in the post-wildfire environment. In forest plots of varying burn severity and burn age in the Eastern Cascades, we measured snow albedo, snow water equivalent, forest structure, black carbon, charcoal and burned woody debris deposition during the snow accumulation and snow ablation seasons.  Study sites included the 2006 Tripod, 2012 Table Mountain, and 2014 Snag Canyon Fires, allowing this effect to be studied over 0.5 to nine years post-fire. The burn areas of the 2012 Table Mountain and 2014 Snag Canyon fires nearly intersected and provided an excellent opportunity to conduct a controlled experiment to quantify the temporal change of post-fire effects on snowmelt. By examining the linkage between impurity deposition, snow albedo, and snowmelt during the snowmelt period, we were able to assess how burn age and burn severity affects snowmelt, the timing of river discharge, and the availability of water resources.

For more Information click here.

Climate change, land-water transfer, and in-stream fate of nitrogen in an agricultural setting

In recent decades, climate change has significantly altered Washington precipitation and streamflow.  Historic and projected trends in eastern Washington precipitation include increasing fall precipitation and increases in heavy precipitation events.  In the Palouse region, these changes, along with higher predicted winter temperatures (leading to more rain, less snow) are likely to intensify pulsed hydrologic events (rainstorms and associated runoff) that carry solutes and sediments into streams.

Soluble, reactive nutrients such as nitrate and dissolved organic matter (DOM) are of particular concern. Nitrate and DOM are widespread water quality issues in Washington, with over 700 water bodies currently listed as impaired with respect to dissolved oxygen and more than 40 sites listed as impaired by high total phosphorus or total nitrogen levels.

In eastern Washington, higher precipitation and discharge occur in the cooler winter months, causing the majority of contaminant mass flux from watersheds to occur during periods that have thus far been largely unstudied.  In this study, we used WSU’s Cook Agronomy Farm as a study system to: 1) understand how hydrologic variability affects a) nitrate and DOM transport from agricultural fields to surface water and b) in-stream fate of nitrogen, and 2) use this information to develop a model that predicts terrestrial-to aquatic contaminant transport under current and anticipated future climate.

We found that the annual nitrate flux from tile drains during the 2012 water year was 13.2 kg N ha-1 y-1, with 84% occurring during winter/spring runoff events. The annual DON flux was 0.7 kg N ha-1 y-1, with 71% occurring during high flow events. Total dissolved N losses accounted for about 10% of the average N fertilizer applied to the tile-drained area.  We also found little evidence of nitrate removal from a streamside buffer or along a stream during winter conditions, suggesting that DOM availability likely has little role in instream nitrate dynamics during this period, when low temperatures and flows are high.

For more Information click here.

Development and Update of Rainfall and Runoff Intensity-Duration-Frequency Curves for Washington State Counties in Response to Observed and Anticipated Extreme Rainfall and Snow Events

The observed and anticipated increasing trends in extreme storm magnitude and frequency,
as well as the associated flooding risk in the Pacific Northwest highlighted the need for revising
and updating the local intensity-duration-frequency (IDF) curves, which are commonly used for
designing critical water infrastructure. In Washington State, much of the drainage system installed
in the last several decades use IDF curves that are outdated by as much as half a century, making
the system inadequate and vulnerable for flooding as seen more frequently in recent years. In this
study, we have developed new and forward looking rainfall and runoff IDF curves for each county
in Washington State using recently observed and projected precipitation and watershed data.
Regional frequency analysis coupled with Bayesian uncertainty quantification and model
averaging methods were used to developed and update the rainfall IDF curves, which were then
used in hydrologic model to develop the runoff IDF curves that explicitly account for effects of
snow and drainage characteristic into the IDF curves and related designs. The resulted rainfall and
runoff IDF curves provide more reliable, forward looking, and spatially resolved characteristics of
storm events in Washington State that can assist local decision makers and engineers to thoroughly
review and/or update the current design standards for urban and rural stormwater management

For more Information click here.

Interactive effects of nutrients and grazing on the control of cyanobacteria blooms: a comparison across a eutrophication gradient in freshwater systems in Washington state

Toxic cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater lakes are an increasing problem worldwide, that are also impacting lakes in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Identifying the potential biotic and/or abiotic factors associated with cyanobacteria bloom dynamics will provide critical information for natural resource managers to develop strategies for managing blooms based on empirical evidence. For example, if nutrients are found to be a primary factor associated with toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Washington state lakes, then a focus on measures to reduce nutrient loading into the lakes may be most effective for mitigating these blooms. Similarly, if a major control of cyanobacteria blooms is grazing impact from zooplankton consumers, then efforts to manipulate the system to maximize grazing pressure (e.g., via biomanipulation of fish stocks and cascading trophic effects) may be a possible approach to reduce toxic blooms. These results therefore benefit state and county agencies as they make decisions about our four lakes/reservoirs, but will also be applicable to regional and national resource management agencies who face similar challenges with cyanobacteria blooms in other temperate aquatic systems.

Results from this research provided new information about the dynamics of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in lakes across a eutrophication gradient in Washington state, which will be applicable to temperate freshwater systems more generally. In particular, this research addressed the interactive effects of nutrients (bottom-up) and grazing (top-down) on controlling the timing and magnitude of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in both eutrophic and oligotrophic systems.

For more information click here.

Low Energy Precision (/Spray) Applications: Unmanned Aerial System based Rapid Evaluation for Crop and Site Specific System Adaptation in the Pacific Northwest


Irrigation of agricultural crops is by far the largest use of water in the arid West. Amidst rapidly changing climatic conditions, water has become a valuable resource for use in diverse agricultural cropping systems in Washington State. Thus, growers need to adopt new/improved irrigation technologies, like Low Elevation Spray/Precision Application (LESA/LEPA) for improved and efficient water use. Such techniques have been practiced successfully for years in the Texas Panhandle and Kansas areas; however, have grower adoption concerns in Pacific Northwest. Key criticisms is that the real efficiency differences between LESA and Mid Elevation Spray Application (MESA) are overestimated since the water that is lost to wind drift and evaporation from MESA suppresses crop water use requirements downwind. To help quantify these differences, it is important to measure canopy temperature differences of similar crops. These data would help show where the additional energy is either lost or gained from evaporated water. Therefore, this project focuses on evaluating LESA and compare it with performance of MESA using small unmanned aerial system (UAS) integrated multispectral and thermal imaging. Our 2016 preliminary trials in potato had shown promising results. Small UAS based imagery was acquired during mid-growth stage and developed were the zonal maps. Lower potato crop vigor (Green NDVI of 0.14±0.03) was observed for MESA compared to LESA (0.30±0.03). Similarly, canopies were ~2°C cooler when irrigated with LESA compared to MESA. On-going 2017 season experiments will critically assess LSEA and MSEA using small UAS based remote sensing approach and utilize such data in effective extension/outreach of pertinent outcomes.

For full report click here

New Generation of Iron-Enhanced Compost for Stormwater Treatment

Stormwater is the major conduit of pollutants from urban areas alongside the Puget Sound. Improving stormwater management to reduce levels of pollutants entering the Sound is one of six key state policy objectives of the Puget Sound Partnership to protect and restore water quality, habitat, and aquatic resources. In the Puget Sound, more than 13,000 pounds of toxic metals are released into the Sound daily.  In addition, many other waters of the State of Washington are polluted with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.

Compost is a popular amendment used in bioretention systems for stormwater treatment because it adsorbs and retains many metals and organic pollutants.  However, over time it can export nutrients as the compost decomposes. In this study, we propose using an alternative iron-enhanced compost to provide a low cost stormwater treatment for removing both toxic metals and nutrients without nutrient bleeding over time.  The study addressed critical questions regarding the capacity and stability of iron-enhanced compost for contaminant removal in bioretention stormwater systems.

The goal of this project was to evaluate the stormwater treatment capabilities of our new iron-compost for the retention/removal of stormwater pollutants by performing the following tasks:

(1) Characterize reactive sites in iron-compost with a suite of chemical and spectroscopic techniques and determine its capacity for lead retention; and

(2) Evaluate the efficiency, stability, and longevity of iron-compost for stormwater treatment in stirred-flow experiments and develop mechanistic-based kinetics models for predicting stormwater quality and fate of sequestered contaminants.

For more information click here.

Progress towards assessing the large-scale impacts of forest fires on runoff erosion across the Pacific Northwest

Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations have perturbed the radiative balance of the earth-atmosphere system and led to human-induced global climate change. There is strong scientific evidence indicating climate change is expected to increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme temperature and precipitation events and thus negatively impact associated heat wave, drought, flood, and wildfire phenomena. In the western U.S., there is clear concern for increases in wildfire occurrence and severity due to projected climate changes.

This project used a modeling approach to examine the adverse water-quality impacts due to extreme wildfires and associated runoff erosion under projected climatic changes across the western U.S. The overarching goal for this particular proposal is to advance our capability to simulate post-fire runoff erosion at scales larger than a single hillslope, in order to examine the relative contribution of sediment being released to larger streams and rivers in response to wildfire. We used a newly-developed physically based modeling framework that combined large-scale hydrology with hillslope-scale runoff erosion (VIC-WEPP).  Towards the overarching goal, we had following interrelated specific objectives:

1. Implementation and evaluation of model performance (at experimental sites).
2. Implement and parameterize model over the Salmon River basin (SRB) of central Idaho.
3. Using simulation, examine the sensitivity of SRB erosion rates to climate versus land cover or soil type.

For more Information click here.

Response of River Runoff to Black Carbon in Snow and Ice in Washington State

In the Western United States, melt water from mountain regions accounts for much of the annual stream flow. In the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, most of the annual precipitation falls during the winter-spring and is stored in the snowpack (Elsner et al., 2010; Vano et al., 2010). About more than 70% of runoff is derived from the melting snowpack, transferring water from the relatively wet winter season to the typically dry summers (Mote et al., 2005).

Spring snowpack levels in the Western United States have declined considerably since the 1950s.  While warming temperatures are a well-recognized factor leading to the reduction in the snowpack and glacier retreat, another cause of accelerated melt is the deposition of impurities onto the snow and glacier surfaces.  One such impurity is back carbon (BC), which is a dark absorptive particle produced by the incomplete combustion of biomass, coal and diesel fuels.  BC deposited on snow and ice affects climate and water resources by reducing the albedo of snow and ice surfaces and accelerating snow and ice melt (Hansen and Nazarenko, 2004; Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008).

The primary objectives of this study were to further characterize the spatial and temporal variability of BC deposited in Washington snow and glacier ice, and to begin to assess the potential role of BC in accelerating snow and glacier melt.  BC concentrations in Washington’s winter snowpack were found to be relatively low, however, BC concentrations are highest during years with low snow accumulation. This has important implications for Washington’s snowpack under a changing climate. Our findings indicate that a shallower snowpack in the future could result in higher BC concentrations in snow, thus exacerbating snowmelt.

For more Information click here.

The effects of river restoration on nutrient retention and transport for aquatic food webs

Stream restoration in the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry. Federal agencies spent $1.5 billion between 1997-2001 to recover steelhead and salmon in the Columbia River Basin.  More recently in 2010, $80 million was spent on Columbia basin watershed restoration to improve salmon and steelhead populations with $30 million allocated to Washington State alone.

Our study evaluated two popular restoration actions to better understand the ecological influence of a logjam installation and addition of salmon carcasses to increase the biomass of listed fish. Specifically, (1) we used a reach scale restoration of logjams as a field-manipulative experiment to quantify their effect on transient storage, hyporheic exchange, and nutrient uptake on the Tucannon River, WA; and, (2) we conducted a pilot study in the Methow River Basin, WA to understand how salmon carcass analogs influence invertebrate community production.

Our results indicate that logjam installation led to increased hyporheic exchange. Immediately after log jam installation, hyporheic exchange in the study site increased 56% compared to a 31% decrease in the reference site. The study site also changed from 100% upwelling to 63% upwelling and 37% downwelling immediately after restoration, demonstrating how logjams increase the heterogeneity of hyporheic exchange. Nutrient uptake was not significantly impacted by logjam installation, which could be due to a lag time either between installation and biotic response or methodological issues.

Previous studies on the effects of salmon carcasses and salmon carcass analogs have shown positive effects of salmon material on invertebrate communities, however, these measurements did not indicate the contribution of direct consumption to salmon carcass and salmon carcass analog effects on secondary production responses. By examining invertebrate gut contents, we provide an estimate of the contribution of direct consumption to salmon carcass effects on secondary production.

For more information click here.

Transformation of Graphene Oxide Nanomaterials in the Aquatic Environment

The rapidly emerging field of nanomaterials for the industrial production of diverse products, from medical therapeutics to ground-water remediation tools, has created the potential for the broad distribution of nanomaterials across the United States including the State of Washington. In the State of Washington, carbon-based nanomaterials are widely used in automobiles, electronics, and aviation industry, all of which are likely to release these emerging pollutants into the surface water via industrial effluent. Graphene family nanomaterials are the most common class of carbon-based nanomaterials in the fields of electronics, medicine, and energy, and are used also in environmental applications. The structure of graphene is very similar to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are commonly found pollutants and serious concerns in surface waters in Washington State. Since many industries in the State of Washington are using graphene-based nanomaterials, degradation of these materials may increase the load of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the surface waters of Washington State. Therefore, understanding the degradation of graphene-based nanomaterials in surface waters is essential for protecting aquatic life and public health.

For more Information click here.

Understanding Links Between Water, Nitrogen, and Greenhouse Gases in Green Infrastructure

Mesocosm Facility

Structures such as rain gardens and bioretention swales, collectively known as low impact development (LID) structures, are being widely promoted as a cost-effective way to both reduce flooding associated with urban runoff and improve water quality. Municipalities in the Pacific Northwest are enthusiastically adopting these structures, but little is known about how these systems process important pollutants including nitrogen or how these systems will respond to climate change, which is anticipated to cause more frequent, more intense precipitation in the Pacific Northwest.  This work provides insight into the effects of storm intensity and frequency on water flow, soil N processing, surface and subsurface N retention, and greenhouse gas production in LID systems. In so doing, the work directly addresses the following State of Washington Water Research Center priority areas: 1) climate change effects on water supply, demand, and quality, and 2) fate and transport of nutrients and emerging contaminants in the environment.

Specifically, we used mesocosm soil columns at the WA Stormwater Research Center to test how N retention and greenhouse gas production in bioretention swale soils responds to rain events of increasing intensity and varying frequency. This work advances fundamental understanding of interactions between soil N processing and climate and provides information that is critically needed by municipal, county, and state-level decision-makers. Furthermore, our project has high training potential as it would directly support the career development of two female assistant professors (Moffett at WSU, Vancouver and Morse at PSU) and two MS students, while catalyzing exciting new collaborations both across multiple WSU campuses and between institutions (WSU and PSU). We intend that this project will result in successful dissemination of results via presentations at national meetings, publication in high-profile journals, and through WSU Puyallup’s extension machinery. Data generated through this effort will contribute to compelling follow-up proposals to relevant agencies and programs such as WA Department of Ecology’s stormwater grants program and NSF Hydrology.

Access the report here.