WWA Research Themes

Understanding and Monitoring Drought

Our region has experienced drought in the recent and distant past.  Several economic sectors are negatively impacted by drought conditions, everyone from farmers and ranchers to municipal water providers to federal land managers to ski areas must cope with periodic droughts.  Water infrastructure, such as diversions, reservoirs and canals, has been built to ease the impact of low water years and has mostly worked as designed, but the possibility of longer and/or more severe droughts may stretch the capability of these systems to deliver water to those who need it.

Both high temperatures and low precipitation lead to drought, and warmer temperatures are likely with climate change in our region, but scientists are less certain about precipitation trends in the future.  WWA’s drought research aims to understand the long term risks for drought as well as existing drought conditions.

In addition to water infrastructure, a large portion of the water in our three states is stored as snow during the winter months.  A well-below-average snowpack as measured by snow-water equivalent (SWE) is a harbinger of not only low water supply but also other drought impacts, such as increased fire risk and below-normal summer soil moisture. WWA hosted a series of workshops in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, on Snowpack Monitoring for Streamflow Forecasting and Drought Planning, which were intended to improve the usability of snowpack monitoring information in the Rocky Mountain West, with a particular view to enhancing that monitoring with new snowpack monitoring technologies. WWA scientists are also continuing to research how remotely sensed snowpack data can be useful to water managers in two Colorado basins, the Rio Grande and the Uncompahgre.

The WWA Intermountain West and Rocky Mountains-High Plains climate dashboards contain recent drought information and are updated monthly.  They include the US Drought Monitor as well as other indices such as EDDI (Evaporative Demand Drought Index) and soil moisture information.

Partnership with NIDIS

WWA partners with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) on several drought research initiatives, and some WWA efforts, including those above, are supported by NIDIS, focus on the development and improvement of drought tools. For example, WWA evaluated the Upper Colorado River Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) with a goal to understand how the Upper Colorado River DEWS has improved drought preparedness in the region.  We are continuing this work with NIDIS as they expand and improve this DEWS to the Intermountain West DEWS.

Current Drought Projects