Increased Extreme Hydrological Events and Decreased Water Supply Availability for the Southwestern United States Projected by Mid-Century
Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 14:25
3003 (Moscone West)
Semi-arid Southern California relies primarily on imported water originating mostly from snowpack in basins outside of the region including the San-Joaquin River, Tulare Lake, Sacramento River, Owens Valley, Mono Lake, and Colorado River basins. This study provides an integrated ensemble approach to assessing climate change impacts on the hydrologic cycle and hydrologic extremes for all water supplies to Southern California. Output from 10 global climate models is used to force a regional climate model and hydrological model resulting in high-resolution 4.17-km output for the region. Greenhouse gas concentrations are prescribed according to historical values for the present-day (1965-2005) and the IPCC Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 for the near to mid term future (2010-2050). On the annual timescale, temperature, precipitation and evaporation increase throughout the majority of the study area. With increased temperatures, precipitation is less likely to fall as snow, decreasing snowpack and natural storage and shifting peak flows to earlier in the year. Daily annual maximum runoff and precipitation events are projected to significantly increase in intensity and frequency by mid-century. The 50-year event, for example, becomes approximately five times more likely in the Colorado River basin and twice as likely in the other basins. In densely populated coastal Southern Californian cities, extreme flood events become three to five times as likely substantially increasing the risk of overburdening flood control systems and potential widespread flooding. The escalating likelihood of the combined effects of runoff occurring earlier in the year and in significantly higher amounts poses a substantial flood control risk requiring adaptation measures such as water release from reservoirs. Significant snowpack reductions and increased flood risk will likely necessitate additional multiyear storage solutions for urban and agricultural regions in the Southwestern US.