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Basinwide hydroclimatic drought in the Colorado River basin

June 1, 2020

The Colorado River basin (CRB) supplies water to approximately 40 million people and is essential to hydropower generation, agriculture, and industry. In this study, a monthly water balance model is used to compute hydroclimatic water balance components (i.e., potential evapotranspiration, actual evapotranspiration, and runoff) for the period 1901–2014 across the entire CRB. The time series of monthly runoff is aggregated to compute water-year runoff and then used to identify drought periods in the basin. For the 1901–2014 period, eight basinwide drought periods were identified. The driest drought period spanned years 1901–04, whereas the longest drought period occurred during 1943–56. The eight droughts were primarily driven by winter precipitation deficits rather than warm temperature anomalies. In addition, an analysis of prehistoric drought for the CRB—computed using tree-ring-based reconstructions of the Palmer drought severity index—indicates that during some past centuries drought frequency was higher than during the twentieth century and that some centuries experienced droughts that were much longer than those during the twentieth century. More frequent or longer droughts than those that occurred during the twentieth century, combined with continued warming associated with climate change, may lead to substantial future water deficits in the CRB.

Publication Year 2020
Title Basinwide hydroclimatic drought in the Colorado River basin
DOI 10.1175/EI-D-20-0001.1
Authors Gregory J. McCabe, David M. Wolock, Connie A. Woodhouse, Gregory T. Pederson, Stephanie A. McAfee, Stephen Gray, Adam Csank
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth Interactions
Index ID 70236144
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division