Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Colorado River reservoirs could bottom out from warming, business-as-usual

21.07.2009
All reservoirs along the Colorado River might dry up by mid-century as the West warms, a new study finds. The probability of such a severe shortage by then runs as high as one-in-two, unless current water-management practices change, the researchers report.

The study's coauthors looked at the effects of a range of reductions in Colorado River stream flow on future reservoir levels and at the implications of different management strategies.

Even under the harshest drying caused by climate change, the large storage capacity of reservoirs on the Colorado might help sustain water supply for a few decades. However, new water management approaches are critical to minimize the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage by mid-century.

"This study, along with others that predict future flow reductions in the Colorado River Basin, suggests that water managers should begin to re-think current water management practices during the next few years, before the more serious effects of climate change appear," says lead study author Balaji Rajagopalan of the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU-Boulder).

The findings by Rajagopalan and his colleagues have been accepted by the journal Water Resources Research, published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The Colorado River system is enduring its 10th year of a drought. Fortunately, the river system entered the drought in 2000, with the reservoirs at approximately 95 percent of capacity. The reservoir system is currently at 59 percent of capacity, about the same as this time last year, says Rajagopalan. Roughly 30 million people depend on the Colorado River for drinking and irrigation water.

The research team examined the future vulnerability of the system to water supply variability coupled with projected changes in water demand. They found that through 2026, the risk of fully depleting reservoir storage in any given year remains below 10 percent under any scenario of climate fluctuation or management alternative. During this period, the reservoir storage could even recover from its current low level, according to the researchers.

But if climate change results in a 10 percent reduction in the Colorado River's average stream flow as some recent studies predict, the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage will exceed 25 percent by 2057, according to the study. If climate change results in a 20 percent flow reduction, the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage will exceed one in two by 2057, Rajagopalan says.

"On average, drying caused by climate change would increase the risk of fully depleting reservoir storage by nearly ten times more than the risk we expect from population pressures alone," Rajagopalan says. "By mid-century this risk translates into a 50 percent chance in any given year of empty reservoirs, an enormous risk and huge water management challenge," he says.

The river hosts more than a dozen dams along its 2,330-kilometer (1,450-mile) journey from Colorado's Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. Total storage capacity of reservoirs on the Colorado exceeds 60 million acre feet, almost 4 times the average annual flow on the river, and the two largest reservoirs - Lake Mead and Lake Powell - can store up to 50 million acre feet of water. As a result, the risk of full reservoir depletion will remain low through 2026, even is stream flow drops 20 percent stream flow as a result of climate change, Rajagopalan says.

Between 2026 and 2057, the risks of fully depleting reservoir storage will increase seven-fold under the current management practices when compared with risks expected from population pressures alone. Implementing more aggressive management practices - in which downstream releases are reduced during periods of reservoir shortages - could lead to only a two-fold increase in risk of depleting all reservoir storage during this period, according to the study.

The magnitude of the risk will ultimately depend on the extent of climate drying and on the types of water management and conservation strategies established.

"Water conservation and relatively small pre-planned delivery shortages tied to declining reservoir levels can play a big part in reducing our risk," says Ken Nowak, a graduate student with CU- Boulder's Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems, or CADSWES, and a study co-author.

"But the more severe the drying with climate change, the more likely we will see shortages and perhaps empty reservoirs despite our best efforts." Nowak says. "The important thing is not to get lulled into a sense of safety or security with the near-term resiliency of the Colorado River basin water supply. If we do, we're in for a rude awakening."

The study was conducted with support from the Western Water Assessment, a joint venture of CU- Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as CADSWES and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Other study authors included James Prairie of the Bureau of Reclamation, Martin Hoerling and Andrea Ray of NOAA, Joseph Barsugli and Bradley Udall of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU-Boulder, and Benjamin Harding of AMEC Earth & Environmental Inc. of Boulder.

Maria-Jose Vinas | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>