Articles | Volume 15, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2145–2164, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2145–2164, 2011

Research article 13 Jul 2011

Research article | 13 Jul 2011

Development of streamflow projections under changing climate conditions over Colorado River basin headwaters

W. P. Miller1,2, T. C. Piechota2,3, S. Gangopadhyay4, and T. Pruitt4 W. P. Miller et al.
  • 1United States Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region, Boulder City, Nevada, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • 3Associate Vice President for Interdisciplinary Research, Division of Research and Graduate Studies, Office of the Urban Sustainability Initiative, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • 4Water Resources Planning and Operations Support Group, Technical Service Center, Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, Colorado, USA

Abstract. The current drought over the Colorado River Basin has raised concerns that the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) may impose water shortages over the lower portion of the basin for the first time in history. The guidelines that determine levels of shortage are affected by relatively short-term (3 to 7 month) forecasts determined by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) using the National Weather Service (NWS) River Forecasting System (RFS) hydrologic model. While these forecasts by the CBRFC are useful, water managers within the basin are interested in long-term projections of streamflow, particularly under changing climate conditions. In this study, a bias-corrected, statistically downscaled dataset of projected climate is used to force the NWS RFS utilized by the CBRFC to derive projections of streamflow over the Green, Gunnison, and San Juan River headwater basins located within the Colorado River Basin. This study evaluates the impact of changing climate to evapotranspiration rates and contributes to a better understanding of how hydrologic processes change under varying climate conditions. The impact to evapotranspiration rates is taken into consideration and incorporated into the development of streamflow projections over Colorado River headwater basins in this study. Additionally, the NWS RFS is modified to account for impacts to evapotranspiration due to changing temperature over the basin. Adjusting evapotranspiration demands resulted in a 6 % to 13 % average decrease in runoff over the Gunnison River Basin when compared to static evapotranspiration rates. Streamflow projections derived using projections of future climate and the NWS RFS provided by the CBRFC resulted in decreased runoff in 2 of the 3 basins considered. Over the Gunnison and San Juan River basins, a 10 % to 15 % average decrease in basin runoff is projected through the year 2099. However, over the Green River basin, a 5 % to 8 % increase in basin runoff is projected through 2099. Evidence of nonstationary behavior is apparent over the Gunnison and San Juan River basins.