Climate variability, water supply, and drought in upper Colorado River basin

Document Type



Currently, the southwest United States is experiencing four years of drought causing water shortages and low lake levels. Additionally, the two most recent droughts have been the largest from the period of 1923 to present. A study of the influence of climate variability on stream flow in the Upper Colorado River Basin is presented with a focus on improved drought forecasting. Using a methodology previously applied to watersheds in Australia and the United States, a long range stream flow forecast (3-9 months in advance) is developed. Climate predictors (Pacific Ocean Sea Surface Temperatures - SSTs) of previous season(s) were used to forecast the spring-summer stream flow of five stations (Colorado River near Cisco, Utah; Green River; White River; Yampa River; Little Snake River) in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The spring-summer stream flow is historically the most important source of water supply for several western states. Results of the analysis indicate that, when using July-August-September SSTs, the model provides modest predictability at a 6 month lead time. Thus, decision information is available at the beginning of the water year (October) and could provide a useful tool for water resources planners.


Climate | Environmental Sciences | Fresh Water Studies | Other Environmental Sciences | Other Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology | Water Resource Management


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