Study Shows Slow Snowmelt, Water Availability In West

Western communities are facing effects of a warming climate with slower and earlier snowmelt, reducing streamflows and possibly the amount of water reaching reservoirs used for drinking water and agriculture, according to a recently published study.

“As the climate warms, there is actually a slower snowmelt – both in timing and rates, which makes for a less efficient streamflow,” Adrian Harpold, ecohydrologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said. Harpold, who initiated the study two years ago at the University of Colorado (UC) Boulder, is a co-author of the paper published in American Geophysical Union’s publications ‘Geophysical Research Letters.’

“I know, it’s counterintuitive, but with a warming climate snowmelt starts sooner in the season, and at a slower rate because the warming occurs earlier when days are shorter and we have less sunlight,” he said. “What makes runoff less efficient is that slower snowmelt reduces the amount of moisture being pushed deep into the subsurface where it is less likely to evaporate”

Higher snow melt rates can develop a pressure gradient that forces moisture deeper into the ground. With lower snow melt rates less water leaves the subsurface where the root systems of trees, bushes, and grasses can access the water, which increases the amount of evapotranspiration into the atmosphere.

“It’s ubiquitous in the Western U.S.; the trends are consistent to all mountain ranges across the West,” Harpold said.

The researchers used an exclusive modeling system to study the effects of slower snowmelt across various regions of the Western U. S. including the Cascade range, the Sierra Nevada range, the Wasatch range and the Rocky Mountains. All of these areas see significant seasonal snow accumulation and generate water resources for downstream communities.

“Of all the regions we studied, streamflow from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is most sensitive to a change in snowmelt,” said lead author of the study Theodore Barnhart, a graduate researcher at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research at CU Boulder. “This analysis suggests that all of the regions studied will experience a decrease in streamflow with a decrease in snowmelt rate, with some regions exhibiting more streamflow sensitivity than others.”

“The Sierra is affected similarly and, besides the Truckee River basin, Northern California will feel an impact from the reduced and early streamflows,” Harpold said. “The snowpack in the Sierra is one massive reservoir that our communities, forests and river environments have come to rely on.”

“Given that 60 million people in the western U.S. depend on snowmelt for their water supply, the future decline in snowmelt-derived streamflow may place additional stress on over-allocated water supplies,” said Noah Molotch the director of the Center for Water Earth Science & Technology CWEST in the CU Boulder Department of Geography and also a co-author of the paper.

Additional co-authors of the study “Snowmelt rate dictates streamflow” are, from UC Boulder, Ben Livneh, John Knowles, and Dominik Schneider. The study was funded through the National Science Foundation with additional assistance from USDA and a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

5 comments on “Study Shows Slow Snowmelt, Water Availability In West

  1. […] ¶ Western communities are facing effects of a warming climate with slower and earlier snowmelt, reducing stream flows and possibly the amount of water reaching reservoirs used for drinking water and agriculture, a recent study says. Counterintuitively, as the climate warms, there is actually a slower snowmelt. [Growing Produce] […]

  2. […] Western communities are facing effects of a warming climate with slower and earlier snowmelt, reducing stream flows and possibly the amount of water reaching reservoirs used for drinking water and agriculture, a recent study says. Counterintuitively, as the climate warms, there is actually a slower snowmelt. [Growing Produce] […]

Farm Management Stories
A water-logged citrus grove in Southwest Florida following Irma
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the Florida Farmscape [Slideshow]
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Farm Management
October 6, 2017
California Small Farm Conference Celebrates 30 Years
Conference will be held October Oct. 29 - 30 in Stockton, CA. Read More
Greenhouse structures flattened by Irma at C&B Farms
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming in the Billions
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag Guestworker Act
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
Swamped citrus in Southwest Florida
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farmers Post-Irma
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
cash money in hand
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Value-Added Producers
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
GenNext Growers
October 1, 2017
USDA Announces $12.6M to Train Next Generation of Ag Scientists
Future ag scientists are looking to tackle exotic invasive pests, water quality monitoring. Read More
Field of carinata
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready for Takeoff
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for Bipartisan Action
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Will H-2A Become H-2C? Find Out What the New Bill Proposes
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R VA) is re-introducing a bill that aims to replace H-2A. Here are some of the ways it will differ from the current program. Read More
Citrus
September 26, 2017
Rise of Agricultural Automation Drives Innovative Event
The International Forum of Agricultural Robots aims to provide links to farming’s future. Read More
Citrus
September 25, 2017
Building Strong Advocates for Farming a Class Act
Emerging leader development for agriculture starts from the ground up. Read More
SFWMD Big Cypress Basin pump station following Irma
Citrus
September 22, 2017
Water Management Concerns Flowing in Florida After Irma
Efforts mounted and executed to move gallons by the ton to protect property. Read More
Handfuls of Florida hops
Citrus
September 22, 2017
When it Comes to Growing, Florida Farmers Never Say Never
Let's raise a toast to the bold producers and researchers who are taking our industry beyond previously perceived crop viability boundaries to places once figured forbidden. Read More
Citrus
September 21, 2017
Hurricane Relief Fund Launched for Florida Farmworkers
Money raised will benefit Redlands Christian Migrant Association’s efforts to aid families in need. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
October 18, 2017
How to Keep Track of Climate Change
Use cool tools to find out how your production methods may change in the future, how much your area is at risk, and how to limit your own impact on the climate. Read More
Citrus
October 17, 2017
USDA Issues Disaster Declaration for Hur…
Operators in designated counties eligible for emergency assistance. Read More
Citrus
October 16, 2017
Wrath of Hurricane Irma’s Rainfall…
Report says storm dropped enough gallons of water on Florida’s St. Johns River Water Management District to swamp 6.7 million football fields. Read More
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the F…
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Farm Management
October 6, 2017
California Small Farm Conference Celebra…
Conference will be held October Oct. 29 - 30 in Stockton, CA. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming i…
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag G…
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farm…
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Valu…
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready fo…
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for …
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 26, 2017
Rise of Agricultural Automation Drives I…
The International Forum of Agricultural Robots aims to provide links to farming’s future. Read More
Citrus
September 25, 2017
Building Strong Advocates for Farming a …
Emerging leader development for agriculture starts from the ground up. Read More
Citrus
September 22, 2017
Water Management Concerns Flowing in Flo…
Efforts mounted and executed to move gallons by the ton to protect property. Read More
Citrus
September 22, 2017
When it Comes to Growing, Florida Farmer…
Let's raise a toast to the bold producers and researchers who are taking our industry beyond previously perceived crop viability boundaries to places once figured forbidden. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Precision in Specialty Crops Gains Momen…
Here are some of the key drivers that may transform your farm in the years ahead. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Hopes High for Hops Fresh From Florida
When it comes to alternative crop solutions, something good is brewing in the Sunshine State. Do you have what it takes to tap in? Read More
Citrus
September 15, 2017
Help Extended to Hurricane-Weary Farmers…
USDA chief grants extra time and special procedures to document and file claims. Read More