GSI developed a drought contingency plan for the North Santiam River Watershed, an effort that will help local stakeholders assess drought vulnerability and build resiliency to future droughts.


Drought contingency planning is increasingly important in the Pacific Northwest because of the effects of climate change on precipitation. In recent years, some summertime river levels have reached historic lows due to rapid melting of low winter snow packs. In addition, in the North Santiam watershed, releases from Detroit Lake are managed according to federal regulations that provide flood protection and instream flows to foster recovery of threatened salmon and steelhead. Given these challenging conditions, it is imperative for water providers and managers to create a plan to manage limited supplies and build resiliency to drought in order to minimize impacts to communities, local economies, and natural resources.

GSI’s Solution

To help with this, GSI developed a drought contingency plan for watershed, which was approved by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the spring of 2018. Work included developing a drought monitoring framework to establish agreement about what local conditions indicate drought, and conducting a vulnerability assessment to identify the most susceptible resources in a drought. GSI also helped establish mitigation actions to create resiliency to future droughts, and response measures that can be implemented in drought conditions. Finally, we helped establish an administrative framework to keep all actions moving forward, and an annual plan review process to incorporate improvements and new information over time.

The effort is in partnership with the Santiam Water Control District, North Santiam River Watershed Council, the City of Salem, and Marion County; and funded in part by Reclamation.

Project Highlights

  • The drought monitoring framework gave stakeholders a tool to recognize and agree on drought stages. Higher drought stages trigger response actions for stakeholders to limit use and share water. We developed mitigation actions that enabled stakeholders to reduce risks and impacts even before a drought hits.
  • We provided a framework and tools for community outreach—a critical step for ensuring all stakeholders are aware of drought stages and water supply challenges, and for building credibility and support for the plan.
  • Reclamation said of the plan: “The Review Team was very pleased with this plan and believes it will serve as a useful example for others as they develop their drought contingency plans.”