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Climate Research and Development in the Colorado River Basin

Research Projects by Agency

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Research Projects by Agency

Publication Abstracts

AMEC Earth & Environmental

Project Length (1-year project ending December 2009)
Principal Investigator: Ben Harding

  • Paper submitted for review in Water Resources Research on using nonparametric techniques to reconstruct pre-observation (1490-1905) streamflows in the Colorado River Basin.

University of Colorado, Boulder – The Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems (CADSWES)

Parallel research under Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/Western Water Assessment (WWA)

Project Length (2.5-year project ending August 2011)
Principal Investigators: Balaji Rajagopalan, Edith Zagona

  • Investigate the projection of streamflows at seasonal to interannual time scales that are consistent with ENSO-related features to provide skillful long lead ensemble streamflow forecast throughout the Colorado River Basin. Interdecadal projections will incorporate climate change projections.

  • Develop a hydrologic simulation technique that captures the frequency attributes , i.e. reoccurrence of climate features, to describe streamflow variability at interannual and longer (interdecadal) timescales. The development of this technique will include an analysis of paleo streamflow data to provide insight into the temporal variability of the dominant frequencies identified in the observed data. The technique will be used to vary the relative strengths of the dominant frequencies to provide scenarios that represent alternative climate variability. This technique will be developed under parallel research at CIRES/WWA.

  • Explore implications to water resources management and adaptive strategies at both time scales using Reclamation’s official mid-term operations and long-term planning models.

NOAA - Postdocs Applying Climate Expertise (PACE) Fellowship

University of Colorado - Western Water Assessment

Project Length (2-year project ending September 2010)
Principal Investigator: Joe Barsugli

Co-sponsorship with Southern Nevada Water Authority

  • Investigate the historical and projected precipitation variability in the Colorado River Basin
    • Quantitative comparison between the observed precipitation variability and that simulated by General Circulation Models (GCMs) for the historical period (1950-1999)
    • Assess potential future changes in temporal precipitation variability

Project Length (2-year project ending September 2011)
Principal Investigator: Joe Barsugli

  • Investigate climatic changes in higher reaches of the Upper Colorado River Basin
  • Compare downscaling methods and uncertainty
    • Simple vs. Statistical vs. Dynamical
    • Explore impacts on decision making
  • Assess high elevation climate observations (SNOTEL)


University of Arizona, Tucson

Project Length (2-year project ending December 2010)
Principal Investigators: Bonnie Colby, Kathy Jacobs, David Meko, Peter Troch and Connie Woodhouse

  • Continuation of ongoing project comprised of 4 components: Paleoclimate, Hydrologic Modeling and Predictive Capacity, Economic Tools, Policy and Outreach
    • Develop tree-ring reconstruction of Lower Basin tributaries, beginning with the Little Colorado and the Virgin Rivers, but later to include the Bill Williams, Muddy and Paria Rivers and Kanab Creek.
    • Explore the incorporation of tree-ring reconstructed streamflows into mid-term operations model, the 24-Month Study.
    • Develop a technique to improve seasonal to interannual forecasting. The tool Basin Specific Climate Prediction (BSCP) links SST and SLP statistically to hydroclimate at the sub-basin scale. The tool has resulted in improved forecasting skill on the Little Colorado River.
    • Develop economic tools that include a “best practices guidebook” summarizing forbearance program features. Also establishing methodology to examine the tradeoffs in forbearance program implementation of “being wrong” on drought forecast.
    • Workshop to discuss groundwater and surface water sustainability issues including potential impacts from climate change.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Project Length (2-year project ended December 2009)
Principal Investigator: Tom Piechota

  • Investigate trends in hydroclimatic variables under changing climate conditions over the Colorado River Basin
    • Paper published in Journal of Hydrometeorology noting consistent increase in temperatures across the basin and resulting increased flows in late fall and winter and decreased flows spring and summer. Precipitation was found to increase during winter months but remain unchanged during the runoff season.
    • Explore how changes to the character of precipitation, i.e. snowfall vs. rainfall, may have an impact on streamflow and water availability in the Colorado River Basin

  • Develop streamflow projections from downscaled climate data provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Santa Clara University, and Reclamation
    • Use the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center hydrologic model, which includes the snow accumulation and ablation model (SNOW-17) coupled with the Sacramento Moisture Accounting model (Sac-SMA), to derive stream flow projections in three to four Colorado River Basin headwater basins
    • Investigate impacts to operations in the San Juan River Basin, specifically impacts to the Navajo and Vallecito reservoirs
    • Explore methods to quantify and visualize the uncertainty of ensemble streamflow projections as compared with existing projections.
    • Develop a framework and demonstrate how climate change projections could be investigated over the entire Colorado River Basin

For more information relating to these research projects, please contact CRBclimateresearch@usbr.gov.

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Updated: March 2010