Watershed Resilience: Addressing Climate Change Planning in Watershed Assessments

Stacy Vynne Steve Adams Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 6/01/2012 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

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Stacy Vynne

Project Summary

The guidebook, Toward a Resilient Watershed: Addressing Climate Change Planning in Watershed Assessments, is intended to complement or supplement a watershed assessment process by posing questions related to how climate change will impact the structure and function of the watershed. The guidebook helps watershed managers understand how future climate scenarios could affect their management decisions and identifies proactive measures that could be employed to improve the resilience of stream habitat and water quality. The authors developed the guidebook using results and input from an 18-month climate and watershed project, funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. While the information is based on studying Oregon’s watersheds, the authors intended for the recommendations to be applicable to other regions across the country.


Watershed assessments can provide historical analysis, identification of existing and projected issues of concern (both natural and human-influenced), and evaluation of ecosystem features and resources. Specific climate change impacts of concern that affect water quality and quantity in watersheds include changes in precipitation and temperature, floods, and droughts. Climate change issues will compound existing stresses such as population growth, development, habitat fragmentation, degraded water quality, and increasing demand for water. Through an 18-month long project funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the project leads gathered information from watershed councils and regional watershed experts through workshops, surveys, and interviews in order to develop watershed council capacity to adapt to climate change. A guidebook, based on the structure of the Oregon Watershed Assessment Manual, was created to assist practitioners in integrating climate change into projects and programs by identifying climate scenarios and adaptation strategies and supplementing watershed assessments.


The guidebook provides recommendations on integrating climate change into watershed assessments; for example,

  1. Gather climate scenarios and models specific to your region.
  2. Assess watershed vulnerability.
  3. Consider climate change impacts at multiple scales (e.g., both inside and outside watershed boundaries).
  4. Identify both negative effects and possible opportunities of climate change.
  5. Assess risks in terms of both probability and magnitude of changes.
  6. Assess importance of climate and non-climate stressors.
  7. Identify priorities of climate and non-climate risks.
  8. Incorporate adaptation actions into overall watershed plans.

It also contains a series of questions for managers to consider throughout the assessment process as well as a few key sample exercises to work through. The guidebook concludes with a methodology for developing a monitoring strategy to evaluate the adaptation actions developed and implemented. 

Outcomes and Conclusions

Project leads are engaged in outreach with watershed councils to promote the use of the guidebook in Oregon watersheds; they are also exploring opportunities to engage with other watersheds and seeking funding to conduct online trainings related to the guidebook.


Vynne, S., Adams, S., and Gregg, R.M. (2012). Watershed Resilience: Addressing Climate Change Planning in Watershed Assessments. [Case study on a project of The Resource Innovation Group]. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/watershed-resilience-addressing-clima… (Last updated June 2012)

Project Contacts

Position: Ecosystem Recovery Coordinator

Affiliated Organizations

The Resource Innovation Group (TRIG) is a 501(c)(3) that provides innovative solutions to the challenges of sustainability, climate change and other social, economic and ecological concerns. TRIG was founded in 1996, as an affiliate of the Portland State University Hatfield School of Government. In 2005, TRIG established the Climate Leadership Initiative (CLI) with a specific mission of fostering the development and application of innovative thinking and approaches to the complex causes and solutions to climate change.