ABSTRACT: The Pacific Northwest (PNW) regional assessment is an integrated examination of the consequences of natural climate variability and projected future climate change for the natural and human systems of the region. The assessment currently focuses on four sectors: hydrology/water resources, forests and forestry, aquatic ecosystems, and coastal activities. The assessment begins by identifying and elucidating the natural patterns of climate vanability in the PNW on interannual to decadal timescales. The pathways through which these climate variations are manifested and the resultant impacts on the natural and human systems of the region are investigated. Knowledge of these pathways allows an analysis of the potential impacts of future climate change, as defined by IPCC climate change scenarios. In this paper, we examine the sensitivity, adaptability and vulnerability of hydrology and water resources to climate variability and change. We focus on the Columbia River Basin, which covers approximately 75 percent of the PNW and is the basis for the dominant water resources system of the PNW. The water resources system of the Columbia River is sensitive to climate variability, especially with respect to drought. Management inertia and the lack of a centralized authority coordinating all uses of the resource impede adaptability to drought and optimization of water distribution. Climate change projections suggest exacerbated conditions of conflict between users as a result of low summertime streamfiow conditions. An understanding of the patterns and consequences of regional climate variability is crucial to developing an adequate response to future changes in climate.