• drought;
  • tree rings;
  • water resources planning;
  • time-series analysis;
  • paleohydrology;
  • Uinta Basin Watershed;
  • Utah

ABSTRACT: Samples from 107 piñon pines (Pinns edulis) at four sites were used to develop a proxy record of annual (June to June) precipitation spanning the 1226 to 2001 AD interval for the Uinta Basin Watershed of northeastern Utah. The reconstruction reveals significant precipitation variability at interannual to decadal scales. Single-year dry events before the instrumental period tended to be more severe than those after 1900. In general, decadal scale dry events were longer and more severe prior to 1900. In particular, dry events in the late 13th, 16th, and 18th Centuries surpass the magnitude and duration of droughts seen in the Uinta Basin after 1900. The last four decades of the 20th Century also represent one of the wettest periods in the reconstruction. The proxy record indicates that the instrumental record (approximately 1900 to the Present) underestimates the potential frequency and severity of severe, sustained droughts in this area, while over representing the prominence of wet episodes. In the longer record, the empirical probability of any decadal scale drought exceeding the duration of the 1954 through 1964 drought is 94 percent, while the probability for any wet event exceeding the duration of the 1965 through 1999 wet spell is only 1 percent. Hence, estimates of future water availability in the Uinta Basin and forecasts for exports to the Colorado River, based on the 1961 to 1990 and 1971 to 2000 “normal” periods, may be overly optimistic.