Climate Change in Colorado: A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation (2014)

The Climate Change in Colorado report is a synthesis of climate science relevant for management and planning for Colorado’s water resources. It focuses on observed climate trends, climate modeling, and projections of temperature, precipitation, snowpack, and streamflow. The 2014 report is a thorough revision and expansion of the 2008 report of the same name, also produced by the Western Water Assessment in partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

The 2008 report synthesized the current science on the physical aspects of climate change relevant to evaluating future impacts on Colorado’s water resources. It presented scientific analyses to support future studies and state efforts to develop a water adaptation plan. The development of the report was a direct response to recommendations in then Governor Ritter’s 2007 Climate Change Action Plan.

This revision again presents scientific analyses to support water resources management and planning. The report focuses on observed trends, modeling, and projections of hydroclimate variables - including temperature, precipitation, snowmelt, and runoff - that determine both water supply and demand for the state. The climate projections focus on the mid-21st century, because this is a key planning horizon for the State’s adaptation strategies, and offers a direct comparison with the projections in the 2008 Report.

The key findings of this study are summarized at the beginning of each section.

Section 2 describes the climate of Colorado, the observing systems and data available for study, and presents the observed climate variability and trends in Colorado since 1900 that are relevant to water resources.

Section 3 provides an overview of climate models and guidance on how to interpret their output.

Section 4 links the observed changes in Colorado to global changes and describes the attribution of observed climate conditions to anthropogenic climate change.

Section 5 describes the latest climate model projections for Colorado and the surrounding region, presenting a picture of Colorado’s potential climate futures. It also presents recent projections of hydrology for the state’s river basins and summarizes the implications for Colorado’s water resources.

Section 6 provides guidance on using the findings of the report in vulnerability assessment and long-range planning for water resources.

Planning guidance in Section 6 includes specific insight on considering climate vulnerability and information uncertainty; approaches to vulnerability assessment and planning; and moving forward under climate uncertainty.


Publication Date: August 2014

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