Developing Tools for Improved Water Supply Forecasting in the Rio Grande Headwaters

Funding Amount and Duration:

$50,000 from April 1, 2016 - March 31, 2017

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

David Clow, USGS Colorado Water Science Center

Cooperators & Partners:

Colin Penn & Graham Sexston, USGS Colorado Water Science Center

About:

The Rio Grande River is a critical source of freshwater for 13 million people in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. More than half of the Rio Grande’s streamflow originates as snowmelt in Colorado’s mountains, meaning that changes in the amount of snowmelt can impact the water supply for communities along the entire river. Snowmelt runoff is therefore an important component of water supply outlooks for the region, which are used by a variety of stakeholders to anticipate water availability in the springtime.

It is critical that these water supply outlooks be as accurate as possible. Errors can cost states millions of dollars due to mis-allocation of water and lost agricultural productivity. There is a perception that runoff forecast accuracy has declined over the last several decades in Colorado and New Mexico, making water supply outlooks less reliable. Declines in accuracy could be related to changes in climate and land cover; however, potential sources of error have not yet been examined in the upper Rio Grande basin.
This study aims to improve runoff forecast models for the upper Rio Grande. Researchers will identify potential sources of error in existing models, improve the representation of snowpack in models of the watershed, develop a new hydrologic model for the basin, and test this model’s ability to forecast runoff. The end product of this study will be a tool for making improved runoff forecasts for the upper Rio Grande basin. The tool will be transferable to other snowmelt-dominated basins in the region that have similar characteristics. These improved runoff forecasts, in turn, can be used to develop more accurate water supply outlooks in the region, empowering stakeholders in the basin to plan their water use more effectively.

Improving Predictions of Water Supply in the Rio Grande under Changing Climate Conditions

Funding Amount and Duration:

$92,915 from April 1, 2016 - March 31, 2017

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

David Gutzler, University of New Mexico

About:

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.

Informing the Management and Coordination of Water Resources in the Rio Grande Basin

Funding Amount and Duration:

$303,521 from October 1, 2015 - September 30, 2017

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Jack Friedman, University of Oklahoma (OU)

Cooperators & Partners:

Jennifer Koch & Jadwiga Ziolkowska, University of Oklahoma

About:

Understanding how to manage scarce water during drought is one of the great challenges we face as a society, particularly for communities in the Rio Grande Basin. Severe drought coupled with human development have profoundly impacted the quantity and quality of water in the basin. Running through Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, the Rio Grande is a multi-national resource that is managed by many different state, federal, and local authorities and used by diverse stakeholders. Developing the basin-wide responses necessary for drought resilience throughout the Basin can be challenging in such a complex management context.

This project seeks to understand how different human and environmental factors affect ten sections of the Rio Grande in order to identify how management strategies and human uses of the river can be better coordinated. The end product will be a tool allowing stakeholders to examine the costs and benefits of their decisions for themselves and for upstream and downstream users. Overall, the results of this research will help stakeholders improve drought resilience and facilitate the sustainable use of water resources throughout the Basin.

Assessing the State of Water Resource Knowledge and Tools for Future Planning in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo

Funding Amount and Duration:

$72,622 from October 1, 2015 - December 31, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Phaedra Budy, Utah State University (USU)

Cooperators & Partners:

  • John Schmidt & Sarah Null, Utah State University
  • Samuel Sandoval Solis, UC Davis

About:

Final Reports

The Rio Grande-Rio Bravo River is the second longest river in the US and is a critical drinking water source for more than 13 million people. It flows south from the snowcapped mountains of Colorado to the New Mexico desert and forms the western border between Texas and Mexico. The multi-national, multi-state, ecologically diverse nature of this river makes management of the resource a complex task, especially in the context of more frequent droughts, changes in land use patterns, and increasing water use needs.

To discuss these and other critical issues throughout the basin, the South Central Climate Science Center is participating in a forum planned by the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative and other partners. This forum will convene hundreds of stakeholders to increase interdisciplinary, interagency, and international collaboration across the basin.

To help forum participants better understand the full spectrum of issues facing the basin and make the best use of existing knowledge, this project will assemble, review, and synthesize the existing scientific body of research and monitoring studies relevant to the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo basin. The synthesis will focus on studies that concern stream flow, ground water, geomorphology, ecology, and human interactions with river ecosystems. This project will also review and synthesize available water resource models applicable to the basin that can assist stakeholders in evaluating tradeoffs as they work to meet their management goals for the basin. The results of this project will help identify information gaps for the basin, as well as highlight uncertainty in existing data, methods, and models, providing water resource managers with valuable insight as they work to balance human and ecological water needs throughout the basin.

Impacts of Climate Change on Flows in the Red River Basin

Funding Amount and Duration:

$291,580 from August 1, 2013 - August 1, 2015

Funding Source:

  • U.S. Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

  • Kellogg, Wayne (Chickasaw Nation)
  • McPherson, Renee (OU)
  • Hong, Yang (OU)

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Austin, Barney (INTERA, Inc.)
  • Rosendahl, Derek (OU)
  • Gaitan, Carlos (OU)
  • Qiao, Lei (OU)

About:

Final Report

Publication: Vegetation Greening and Climate Change Promote Multidecadal Rises of Global Land Evapotranspiration

Publication: Evaluation of a Method to Enhance Real-Time, Ground Radar–Based Rainfall Estimates Using Climatological Profiles of Reflectivity from Space

Publication: Performance assessment of the successive Version 6 and Version 7 TMPA products over the climate-transitional zone in the southern Great Plains, USA

The Red River Basin is a vital source of water in the South Central U.S., supporting ecosystems, drinking water, agriculture, tourism and recreation, and cultural ceremonies. Stretching from the High Plains of New Mexico eastward to the Mississippi River, the Red River Basin encompasses parts of five states – New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Further, 74% of the jurisdictional boundaries of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes are located within the basin.

Water resources in the basin have been stressed in recent years due to a multi-year drought and increasing demands for consumptive use by metropolitan areas in Oklahoma and Texas. Unfortunately, currently available projections of future precipitation across the region show a high degree of uncertainty, making it difficult for water managers to plan for the future.

The goal of this project is to provide resource managers with critical information on the impacts of climate change on flow in the Red River Basin. Researchers (1) used global climate models to make climate projections for the basin, and (2) developed models to determine the impacts of projected future climate conditions on stream flow. The modeling results can be used to evaluate future water supplies for water providers and flows for the environment.

The Red River Basin lies within the boundaries of three Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), and the results of this project will help the LCCs and other managers reduce the impacts of floods and droughts and make decisions regarding the potential need for additional reservoirs or diversions of water into the Red River Basin. The tools developed for this study can also be used to evaluate the impacts of different flow conditions on aquatic life or water quality in the basin.

Analyzing and Communicating the Ability of Data and Models to Simulate Streamflow and Answer Resource Management Questions

Funding Amount and Duration:

$50,000 from July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2013

Funding Source:

  • U.S. Geological Survey 

Principal Investigators:

  • Shannon K Brewer, Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Chris B. Zou &Thomas Worthington, OSU
  • Paul Kemp, Univ. of Southhampton
  • Oklahoma Cooperative Research Unit

About:

To date, hydrological and ecological models have been developed independently from each other, making their application particularly challenging for interdisciplinary studies. The objective of this project is to synthesize and evaluate prevailing hydrological and ecological models in the South-Central U.S., particularly the southern Great Plains region. This analysis will identify the data requirements and suitability of each model to simulate stream flow while addressing associated changes in the ecology of stream systems, and will portray climate variability and uncertainty. The anticipated results and deliverables of this project will include a comprehensive, updated, and systematic report on recent developments in ecosystem hydrology with a focus on freshwater resource management. This synthesis report will directly address existing needs of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) by providing information that can be readily used to help understand the effect of climate change and land management on hydrology and associated fish communities.