Big Wood Basin Futures - Project Overview
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CIRC map

The Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) is a research organization funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide policy makers, resource managers, and fellow researchers with the best available science covering the changing climate of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. In the spring of 2012, CIRC began informal discussions with water users in the Snake River Basin about how changes in future climate could affect seasonal water supplies. After continued conversations with regional stakeholders, the Big Wood Basin, a tributary to the Snake River in central Idaho, was selected as the subject of a pilot project exploring possible impacts of climate and other drivers of change on the local water resources.

The project explores the interactions between land use practices, population growth, and water resources in the Big Wood Basin and assesses how these could change in the future due to human and natural drivers of change. By working closely with local stakeholders throughout the project, CIRC aims to collaboratively produce knowledge and information that is usable and relevant for decision makers in the Big Wood Basin and the state of Idaho.


  • March 2012: CIRC met with representatives from federal and state agencies, utility providers, canal operators, and university extension to identify research priorities for understanding climate impacts to water supplies in the Snake River Basin.
  • June 2012: Stakeholders from the March workshop suggested studying the Big Wood Basin as a pilot project. The basin contains a variety of land and water uses, has experienced a rapid rate of population growth in the Wood River Valley over the past 40 years, and relies on annual snowpack for water supply, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change. CIRC reached out to additional stakeholders in the basin.
  • August 2012: CIRC hosted a workshop with stakeholders from the Big Wood Basin to better understand the basin and discuss what should or could be considered in the research efforts. CIRC and participants developed a conceptual model to illustrate important components and connections within the basin.

Conceptual model of water resources in the Big Wood Basin developed by stakeholders in August 2012. Endpoints are shown in colored boxes; these represent items identified by the stakeholders as being important to understand within the system. Components are other important elements that relate to the endpoints, and the arrows, or influences, indicate how components and endpoints relate to each other. Concept Map

  • Overview of Project Approach
    Concept Map
    November 2012: Using the conceptual model as the foundation, CIRC proposed developing two quantitative models to capture the complexity of the Big Wood Basin system and allow stakeholders to explore how it might look in the future. The first modeling effort was a system dynamics model, a simple platform to explore general relationships within the system. The second model was Envision, a more complex model which allowed for a comprehensive and spatial analysis of the system under future scenarios. Click here to see the Big Wood Project Proposal.
  • December 2012: CIRC presented the draft system dynamics model framework to stakeholders via webinar. This was an opportunity for CIRC to present and solicit feedback on the model, which consisted of three sub-model representing water supply and demand, land use, and population changes in the basin.
  • April 2013: CIRC hosted a workshop where stakeholders defined a variety of future scenarios that they would like to explore through the model frameworks. At this meeting, it was decided that although the system dynamics model had helped stakeholders and the CIRC team better understand the system, it was not able to fully represent the interests and concerns they had about the future of the basin. Therefore, development of the system dynamics model ceased and the CIRC team pursued only the Envision model.
  • April 2013: CIRC Principal Investigator Dr. John Abatzoglou provided a webinar presentation on regional climate research and potential changes for the Big Wood Basin. Click here for a recording of his presentation.
  • May 2013: Jim Bartolino of the U.S. Geological Survey Idaho Water Science Center provided a webinar on the Hydrogeology of the Wood River Valley Aquifer System, South-Central Idaho. Click here for a recording of the webinar.
  • June 2013: CIRC presented the draft alternative scenarios developed at the April workshop via webinar. Stakeholders were asked to provide feedback on whether the scenarios accurately captured their interests and concerns.
  • Fall 2013 - Spring 2014: The CIRC technical team developed the Envision model for the Big Wood Basin.
  • Summer 2014: CIRC presented initial results of the Envision model through two workshops. The Big Wood Basin Atlas was unveiled as a platform for stakeholders to explore the myriad results generated by Envision through the lenses of various storylines.

Project Participants

CIRC thanks the following organizations for their input and/or participation in the Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures Project:

University of Idaho Cooperative Extension, Big Wood Canal Company, Twin Falls Canal Company, Northside Canal Company, The Nature Conservancy, Wood River Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Conservation League, Sun Valley Economic Development, City of Ketchum, Blaine County, Idaho Department of Water Resources, US Geological Survey, US Bureau of Reclamation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Idaho Power, private landowners.

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