Colorado River Resources

The Colorado River is the lifeline for much of the West. It provides water and electricity for people throughout the region, including residents of Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque. It also irrigates over 3 million acres (1.2 million ha) of crops and pasture, provides abundant recreational opportunities for rafting, fishing, boating, and hiking, and serves as habitat for a multitude of fish and wildlife species, including several endangered native fish.

Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science

In recent decades, increasing water demand, dry conditions, and warming temperatures have impacted the Colorado River, creating greater uncertainty about the future of the basin’s water supply. With support and guidance from over a dozen federal, state, and local water agencies, WWA researchers teamed up with leading experts to integrate nearly 800 peer-reviewed studies, agency reports, and other sources to assess the state of the science and technical practice relevant to water resources in the Colorado River Basin. Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science aims to create a shared understanding of the physical setting and the latest data, tools, and research underpinning the management of Colorado River water resources. In identifying both challenges and opportunities, the report will guide water resource managers and researchers in efforts to improve the short-term and mid-term forecasts and long-term projections for the basin's water system.

Selected research papers, reports, and other resources which show the current state-of-knowledge and the progress in our understanding of the variability of climate and hydrology in the Colorado River Basin and the potential impacts of future climate change.

Paleoclimatic (Tree-ring) Reconstructions


The TreeFlow web resource developed and maintained by WWA and CLIMAS provides tree-ring reconstructions of annual streamflow for over 60 gages across the U.S., over 30 of which are within Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It also has links to tree-ring reconstructions of precipitation, drought indices, and snowpack.

Long-Term Surface-Water Supply and Streamflow Trends in the Upper Colorado River Basin Based on Tree-Ring Analysis (1976) by C.W. Stockton and G.C. Jacoby. The first "modern" tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow in the Upper Colorado River Basin, while superseded by later work, is still a landmark in our understanding of the hydrologic history of the basin. 

Observed (Post-1900) Climate and Hydrology

Drivers of Drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin 
Website for project by WWA affiliate Connie Woodhouse and others with links to presentations, data and analysis tools, and technical report (2016). Also covers paleoclimate records and future projections for the basin.

Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability, (Executive Summary) The National Academies Press, February 2007

Full Report Available through the National Academies Press

Precipitation History of the Colorado Plateau Region, 1900-2000 (2002). Fact Sheet published by the USGS.


Future Projections of Streamflow and Climate

Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science (2020)

WWA Climate Change in Colorado Report (2014) - Section 5-3 discusses projected hydrologic changes in the Colorado River Basin.

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