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How will baseflow respond to climate change in the Upper Colorado River Basin?

October 25, 2021

Baseflow is critical to sustaining streamflow in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Therefore, effective water resources management requires estimates of baseflow response to climatic changes. This study provides the first estimates of projected baseflow changes from historical (1984 – 2012) to thirty-year periods centered around 2030, 2050, and 2080 under warm/wet, median, and hot/dry climatic conditions using a hybrid statistical-deterministic baseflow model. Total baseflow supplied to the Lower Colorado River Basin may decline by up to 33%, although this value may increase in the near future by 6% under warm/wet conditions. The percentage of baseflow lost during in-stream transport is projected to increase by 1 - 5% relative to historical conditions. Results highlight that climate driven changes in high elevation hydrology have impacts on basin-wide water availability. Study results have implications for human and ecological water availability in one of the most heavily managed watersheds in the world.