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Winter Inputs Buffer Streamflow Sensitivity to Snowpack Losses in the Salt River Watershed in the Lower Colorado River Basin

1
The Nature Conservancy, Center for Science and Public Policy, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
2
Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
3
Southwest Watershed Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
4
Pima County Regional Flood Control District, Tucson, AZ 85701, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2021, 13(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13010003
Received: 7 November 2020 / Revised: 14 December 2020 / Accepted: 17 December 2020 / Published: 22 December 2020
Recent streamflow declines in the Upper Colorado River Basin raise concerns about the sensitivity of water supply for 40 million people to rising temperatures. Yet, other studies in western US river basins present a paradox: streamflow has not consistently declined with warming and snow loss. A potential explanation for this lack of consistency is warming-induced production of winter runoff when potential evaporative losses are low. This mechanism is more likely in basins at lower elevations or latitudes with relatively warm winter temperatures and intermittent snowpacks. We test whether this accounts for streamflow patterns in nine gaged basins of the Salt River and its tributaries, which is a sub-basin in the Lower Colorado River Basin (LCRB). We develop a basin-scale model that separates snow and rainfall inputs and simulates snow accumulation and melt using temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity. Despite significant warming from 1968–2011 and snow loss in many of the basins, annual and seasonal streamflow did not decline. Between 25% and 50% of annual streamflow is generated in winter (NDJF) when runoff ratios are generally higher and potential evapotranspiration losses are one-third of potential losses in spring (MAMJ). Sub-annual streamflow responses to winter inputs were larger and more efficient than spring and summer responses and their frequencies and magnitudes increased in 1968–2011 compared to 1929–1967. In total, 75% of the largest winter events were associated with atmospheric rivers, which can produce large cool-season streamflow peaks. We conclude that temperature-induced snow loss in this LCRB sub-basin was moderated by enhanced winter hydrological inputs and streamflow production. View Full-Text
Keywords: Colorado River Basin; streamflow; quickflow; water supply; snowmelt; rain-on-snow; rainfall; climate change; warming; atmospheric rivers Colorado River Basin; streamflow; quickflow; water supply; snowmelt; rain-on-snow; rainfall; climate change; warming; atmospheric rivers
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MDPI and ACS Style

Robles, M.D.; Hammond, J.C.; Kampf, S.K.; Biederman, J.A.; Demaria, E.M.C. Winter Inputs Buffer Streamflow Sensitivity to Snowpack Losses in the Salt River Watershed in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Water 2021, 13, 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13010003

AMA Style

Robles MD, Hammond JC, Kampf SK, Biederman JA, Demaria EMC. Winter Inputs Buffer Streamflow Sensitivity to Snowpack Losses in the Salt River Watershed in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Water. 2021; 13(1):3. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13010003

Chicago/Turabian Style

Robles, Marcos D., John C. Hammond, Stephanie K. Kampf, Joel A. Biederman, and Eleonora M.C. Demaria 2021. "Winter Inputs Buffer Streamflow Sensitivity to Snowpack Losses in the Salt River Watershed in the Lower Colorado River Basin" Water 13, no. 1: 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13010003

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