Characterizing Past and Future Flood Regimes of California’s Cosumnes River: A Hydroinformatic Approach

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Alison A Whipple, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, Laura E Condon, Bureau of Reclamation Denver, Technical Service Center, Denver, CO, United States; Colorado School of Mines, Hydrologic Science and Engineering Program and Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Golden, CO, United States and Joshua H Viers, University of California Merced, Merced, CA, United States
As the only major undammed river on the west slope of California’s Sierra Nevada, with over 100 years of USGS streamflow data, and the location of several floodplain conservation and restoration efforts, the Cosumnes River offers a unique opportunity to study connections between a river’s flow regime and floodplain functions. Flow regime, including frequency and magnitude of floods, and its interaction with the surrounding landscape are primary drivers of floodplain structure and ecosystem dynamics. However, these floodplain processes and functions are often altered by water management schemes, land uses, and hydroclimatic alteration induced by climate warming. Improved understanding of ecologically relevant aspects of flow regime and potential future alteration is central to managing floodplain ecosystems and their services. In order to describe the inundation regime of the lower Cosumnes River floodplain, California, this research moves beyond flood frequency analysis to examine other flood event characteristics and identify flood types using statistical cluster analysis. Floods are characterized using metrics of ecological relevance, such as magnitude, timing, duration, and total volume. To explore potential effects of climate change, non-stationary Generalized Extreme Value models are fit to historical floods based on temperature and precipitation at the monthly scale. Temperature and precipitation variables from downscaled Global Climate Models of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase-5 are then applied to develop flood distributions for climate change scenarios. These results are used to adjust the magnitude of clustered flood events identified in the historical record, and the sensitivity of the inundation regime to these changes is assessed. This research provides useful scientific insights for management and restoration efforts within the Cosumnes watershed and demonstrates the utility of applying these methods to other floodplain systems.