Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures

The Big Wood River Basin comprises more than 3,000 square miles in the center of the southern half of Idaho. As
with much of the American West, the Big Wood is facing potential water scarcities as warming temperatures lead to less mountain snowpack, altering the region’s hydrology.

In 2012, the CIRC NOAA RISA team started working with community members in the Big Wood to help them investigate and respond to changes that the basin is likely to experience as the climate changes.

The result was the Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures project. Working together with local farmers, business owners, policy makers, and conservation groups, the CIRC team created an interactive and integrated model of the Big Wood Basin using the Envision computer-modeling platform developed by CIRC researcher John Bolte.

The model ran a series of sophisticated simulations informed by local know-how and our team’s research, empowering local residents to glimpse how drivers of change—projected temperature increases, population growth, changes in the local economy and farming practices, and policy responses—could affect the Big Wood’s water resources in the future. By working closely with local stakeholders throughout this project, CIRC collaboratively produced usable information that has proven relevant for local decision-making.

Learn More About the Big Wood Project


NOAA RISA’s CIRC Team: Scientists and farmers make better decisions together




  • Stakeholder participants in the Big Wood project are experimenting with several water-saving adaptation strategies developed in this project.
  • The creation of a comprehensive, interactive website containing the project’s key findings: BigWood/Climate-Temperature.aspx.
  • Partners included numerous local governments, non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, and businesses. (A complete list can be found in Partners section of this report.)
  • Formed a network that has been instrumental for the stakeholders in the Big Wood Basin dealing with recent water shortages.
  • Results from the study have allowed CIRC to expand its outreach in the region and are providing a working model for how to aid area stakeholders in adaptation efforts.
  • Production of a short video describing the Big Wood project and its successes. The video’s release date is still to be determined as of November 2017.


  • Temperatures have increased in the Big Wood Basin in recent decades and are expected to continue rising through the 21st century under human-caused climate change (project website).
  • Compared to past climate (1980–2010), temperatures in the Big Wood Basin are projected to increase between 2–6 degrees Celsius (4–11 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2070 (project website).
  • Extreme heat events are projected to increase in frequency across all climate scenarios reviewed (project website).
  • Snowpack—an important storage mechanism in the Big Wood Basin, satisfying water demand during the late spring and early summer—has declined in the basin in recent decades (project website).
  • With warming temperatures, the Big Wood Basin is increasingly likely to receive more of its precipitation as rain and less as snow (project website).
  • All future climate scenarios employed in this project suggest that the timing of the peak seasonal snow— historically occurring near April 1st of each year—will shift up to 6 weeks earlier in the season by 2070 (project website).
  • Streamflow peaks in the Big Wood Basin are expected to occur earlier in the year with reduced peak flows as warming continues in the 21st century (project website).
  • Adopting policies that address water efficiency and land use were shown to make a difference in water demand, especially regarding agricultural water use in the Big Wood Basin (project website).
  • Our study recommended two management scenarios for our stakeholders to consider with regard to agriculture and water demand: a less managed and a more managed scenario. We found marked differences between the two scenarios (project website).
  • In the less managed scenarios, agricultural water demand increased by 50%, while under the more managed scenario, agricultural water demand stayed roughly constant, despite increasing temperatures and a robust agricultural sector (project website).



Inouye, Allison M., Denise H. Lach, John Stevenson, John P. Bolte, and Jennifer Koch.
“Participatory Modeling to Assess Climate Impacts on Water Resources in the Big Wood Basin, Idaho.”
In Environmental Modeling with Stakeholders, edited by Steven Gray, Michael Paolisso, Rebecca Jordan, and Stefan Gray, 289-306. AG, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2017.
Print ISBN: 978-3-319-25051-9. Online ISBN: 978-3-319-25053-3. 25053-3_14.

Lach, Denise. “An Experiment in Post-Normal Science: Building a Knowledge- to-Action-Network in Idaho.”
In New Strategies for Wicked Problems: Science and Solutions in the 21st Century, edited by Edward P. Weber, Denise Lach, and Brent Steel, Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2017.
Print ISBN: 9780870718939. new-strategies-for-wicked-problems.

Stevenson, John, Michael Crimmins, Jessica Whitehead, Julie Brugger, and Clyde Fraisse.
“Connecting climate information with practical uses: Extension and the NOAA RISA program.”
In Climate in Context: Science and Society Partnering for Adaptation, edited by Adam S. Parris, Gregg M. Garfin, Kirstin Dow, Ryan Meyer, and Sarah L. Close, 75-98.
Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2016.
Print ISBN: 9781118474792. E-book ISBN: 9781118474785.
https://doi. org/10.1002/9781118474785.