Advancing the Use of Drought Early Warning Systems in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Lisa DIlling

The largely rural Western Slope of Colorado encompasses much of the headwaters of the Colorado River, a critical regional water resource used to meet multiple demands across a landscape that is frequently subject to drought. Water managers and users in this region rely on snowpack as a form of seasonal water storage as well as an indicator of drought. Climate change projections indicate that the regional warming trend will continue, causing the snowpack to melt earlier and produce less runoff for the same precipitation input, and potentially reducing its utility as a drought indicator. This project will identify opportunities to improve drought risk management by characterizing decision processes related to drought risk and describing the current use of information among water providers in the Western Slope. Then, we will assess whether snowpack indicators will remain good predictors of seasonal water supplies under a warming climate. The first element of the project will consist of in-depth interviews, participant observation, document analysis and focus groups of five Western Slope water entities. The second element will evaluate the robustness of current snow-based drought indicators, estimate the change in robustness under projected future climate warming using modeled data, and explore the implications of changing robustness for climate adaptation resilience through focus groups with water managers. The project team consists of researchers and practitioners with diverse and complementary backgrounds (hydrology, climatology, social science, policy, civil engineering, and water resources management) and broad experience working on water and climate issues on the Western Slope.

Project participants/Partners:

  • Ben Livneh, Lead PI, CEAE CU Boulder
  • Lisa Dilling, Co-PI, ENVS CU Boulder
  • Bill Travis, Co-PI, GEOG CU Boulder
  • Jeff Lukas, Co-PI, WWA CU Boulder
  • Nolan Doesken, Co-PI, CO State Climatologist and Colorado State University
  • Eric Kuhn, Co-PI, Colorado River District
  • Rebecca Smith, ENVS Graduate Student Researcher