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Keywords:

  • Columbia River;
  • flow estimation;
  • virgin flow;
  • flow regulation effects;
  • irrigation depletion effects

Abstract

The Columbia River is a major source of and conduit for Pacific Northwest economic activity, and is one of the more heavily modified rivers in North America. Understanding human and climate-induced changes in its hydrologic properties is, therefore, vital. Long streamflow records are essential to determining how runoff has changed over time, and Columbia River daily streamflow record at The Dalles began in 1878. To understand and separate anthropogenic and climate effects, however, it is also necessary to have a basin-scale estimate of virgin or naturalized flow. The United States Geological Survey has calculated a monthly averaged adjusted river flow at The Dalles for 1879–1999 that accounts for the effects of flow regulation. The Bonneville Power Administration has estimated the monthly averaged virgin flow at The Dalles, i.e. the flow in the absence of both flow regulation and irrigation depletion for 1929–89. We have estimated the monthly virgin flow of the Columbia River at The Dalles from records of irrigated area for the missing early years, i.e. for the period 1879–1928. In addition, to allow hindcasting of a virgin flow sediment transport for the system, a daily virgin flow index with realistic higher moments and spectral properties has been calculated. Examination of the virgin flow record shows that climate change since the late 19th century has decreased annual average flow volume by > 7%; irrigation depletion has reduced the flow by another ∼7%. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.