A data-driven blog that uses chart, maps, cartograms, and other visualizations to understand important societal issues.

Climate, Energy, Environment

The future of the Colorado River: Climate change, disturbances, and lower streamflow

A new article in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS) projects major changes to water supply in the Colorado River basin (CRB) due to climate change and climate-driven disturbances. These disturbances include pest outbreaks, wildfires, and drought. Few studies have accounted for both changing climate, associated disturbances, and the impact on water supply, and none on this scale.
The CRB—roughly 11 % area of the continental USA—directly supports water supply for more than 30 million people, accounts for approximately 15 % of the USA’s crops and livestock, and 53 GW of power generation capacity. Our study shows that climate-driven disturbances could reduce Colorado streamflow by 6–11 % compared with climate scenarios that do not include disturbances and associated vegetation changes. For an oversubscribed, critical river system, this reduction in flow is potentially catastrophic. The principal driver is how disturbances could change in developing snowpack and snowmelt. The full paper is available at https://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/22/709/2018/.

Leave a Reply