When it’s dry, it’s dry all over, according to a new analysis of more than 400 years of annual streamflow in the Upper Colorado and Salt and Verde river basins.
By using data from tree rings, University of Arizona researchers conclude that water supply for those western rivers fluctuated in synchrony during periods of severe drought. The study goes back almost 800 years in the Salt-Verde basin and covers waterways from the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The project’s overall conclusion is that severe droughts and low-flow conditions in one basin are unlikely to be offset by abundant streamflow in the other basin.
Ester said the findings will help devise an assessment tool for implementing the project’s results into operational water supply decision-making.
Hirschboeck said the study’s findings offered some revelations for the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research’s scientists. "Dave and I were surprised that the two distant basins, the Upper Colorado and the Salt/Verde, were so much in synch during periods of extremely high or extremely low flow." She added, "The recent joint drought, while severe, is not unprecedented when compared to those in the previous five centuries."
The findings of the first phase are being shared with representatives of various federal, state and local agencies such as the National Weather Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project and cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
The tree-ring study in partnership with The University of Arizona is the one of many initiatives taken by SRP in response to an ongoing drought that is in its 10th year. Even counting this past winter when 2,017,580 acre-feet of runoff – the first above-normal runoff season since 1998 -- filled the reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers, stream flows into the Salt and Verde have been below normal for eight of the last 10 January-through-May runoff seasons.
Phoenix-based SRP is the largest provider of water to the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.
The University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research was established in 1937 by A. E. Douglass, the founder of modern tree-ring science.
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