Trends in Western U.S. Snowpack and Related Upper Colorado River Basin Streamflow

Authors

  • W. Paul Miller,

    1. Respectively, Hydrologic Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Boulder Canyon Operations Office, Lower Colorado Region, P.O. Box 61470, LC-4634, Boulder City, Nevada 89005
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  • Thomas C. Piechota

    1. Associate Vice President for Interdisciplinary Research, Division of Research and Graduate Studies, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Office of the Urban Sustainability Initiative, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 451087, Las Vegas, Nevada 89054-1087
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  • Paper No. JAWRA-10-0104-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until six months from print publication.

(E-Mail/Miller: wmiller@usbr.gov).

Abstract

Miller, W. Paul and Thomas C. Piechota, 2011. Trends in Western U.S. Snowpack and Related Upper Colorado River Basin Streamflow. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 47(6):1197–1210. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2011.00565.x

Abstract:  Water resource managers in the Western United States (U.S.) are currently faced with the challenge of adapting to unprecedented drought and uncertain impacts of climate change. Recent research has indicated increasing regional temperature and changes to precipitation and streamflow characteristics throughout the Western U.S. As such, there is increased uncertainty in hydroclimatological forecasts, which impact reservoir operations and water availability throughout the Western U.S., particularly in the Colorado River Basin. Previous research by the authors hypothesized a change in the character of precipitation (i.e., the frequency and amount of rainfall and snowfall events) throughout the Colorado River Basin. In the current study, 398 snowpack telemetry stations were investigated for trends in cumulative precipitation, snow water equivalent, and precipitation events. Observations of snow water equivalent characteristics were compared to observations in streamflow characteristics. Results indicate that the timing of the last day of the snow season corresponds well to the volume of runoff observed over the traditional peak flow season (April through July); conversely, the timing of the first day of the snow season does not correspond well to the volume of runoff observed over the peak flow season. This is significant to water resource managers and river forecasters, as snowpack characteristics may be indicative of a productive or unproductive runoff season.

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