Articles | Volume 18, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 4509–4527, 2014
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 4509–4527, 2014

Research article 14 Nov 2014

Research article | 14 Nov 2014

Climate change and wetland loss impacts on a western river's water quality

R. M. Records1, M. Arabi2, S. R. Fassnacht3, W. G. Duffy4, M. Ahmadi5, and K. C. Hegewisch6 R. M. Records et al.
  • 1Integrated Water, Atmosphere, Ecosystems Education and Research Program, Department of Geosciences, Colorado State University, 1482 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1482, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University, 1372 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1372, USA
  • 3Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability/Watershed Science, Colorado State University, 1476 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1476, USA
  • 4US Geological Survey, California Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Humboldt State University, 1 Harpst Street, Arcata, CA 95521, USA
  • 5Spatial Sciences Lab, 1500 Research Parkway, Suite 221B, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA
  • 6Department of Geography, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-3120, USA

Abstract. An understanding of potential stream water quality conditions under future climate is critical for the sustainability of ecosystems and the protection of human health. Changes in wetland water balance under projected climate could alter wetland extent or cause wetland loss (e.g., via increased evapotranspiration and lower growing season flows leading to reduced riparian wetland inundation) or altered land use patterns. This study assessed the potential climate-induced changes to in-stream sediment and nutrient loads in the snowmelt-dominated Sprague River, Oregon, western US. Additionally, potential water quality impacts of combined changes in wetland water balance and wetland area under future climatic conditions were evaluated. The study utilized the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) forced with statistical downscaling of general circulation model (GCM) data from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) using the Multivariate Adaptive Constructed Analogs (MACA) method. Our findings suggest that, in the Sprague River, (1) mid-21st century nutrient and sediment loads could increase significantly during the high-flow season under warmer, wetter climate projections or could change only nominally in a warmer and somewhat drier future; (2) although water quality conditions under some future climate scenarios and no wetland loss may be similar to the past, the combined impact of climate change and wetland losses on nutrient loads could be large; (3) increases in stream total phosphorus (TP) concentration with wetland loss under future climate scenarios would be greatest at high-magnitude, low-probability flows; and (4) loss of riparian wetlands in both headwaters and lowlands could increase outlet TP loads to a similar degree, but this could be due to distinctly different mechanisms in different parts of the watershed.

Short summary
We demonstrate a framework to assess system sensitivity to combined climate and land cover change scenarios. In the western United States study watershed, findings suggest that mid-21st-century nutrient and sediment loads could increase significantly or show little change under no wetland losses, depending on climate scenario, but that the combined impact of climate change and wetland losses on nutrients could be large.