On its southbound course from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande provides water resources for more than 13 million people. The quantity of water flowing into the northern section of the river depends on how much snowpack from the Rocky Mountains melts into runoff and on seasonal precipitation rates. Models describing the relationship between winter snowpack quantity and springtime snowmelt runoff quantities for the basin are combined with models describing long-term natural variation in precipitation to create water supply outlooks. The outlooks developed by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service are currently used by stakeholders to make critical water allocation decisions in the basin. Improvements to water supply outlooks could be worth millions of dollars associated with better water allocation strategies.
In order to ensure that these outlooks are as accurate as possible for water management planning, there is a need to better understand how snowpack and snowmelt runoff are related to each other and how both may be influenced by large climatic variation such as El Niño and global climate change. To address this need, this project will combine historical data and climate model projections to develop enhanced prediction models relating winter snowpack to subsequent snowmelt runoff in the upper Rio Grande.
The results of this research will identify changes to streamflow predictability over the past several decades (a period of rapid observed warming), and assess future predictability. This work will also help to inform the development of more reliable water supply outlooks essential for planning purposes in the Rio Grande Basin, such as reservoir management and irrigated agriculture.