Assessing the Effects of Climate Change on Middle Rio Grande Surface Water Supplies Using a Simple Water Balance Reservoir Model

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


The middle Rio Grande is a vital source of water for irrigation in the region. Climate change is impacting regional hydrology and is likely to put additional stress on a water supply that is already stretched thin. To gain insight on the hydrologic effects of climate change on reservoir storage, a simple water balance model was used to simulate the Elephant Butte–Caballo Reservoir system (southern New Mexico). The water balance model was forced by hydrologic in-puts generated by 97 climate simulations derived from CMIP5 global climate models, coupled to a surface hydrologic model. Results suggest that the percentage of years that reservoir releases satisfy agricultural water rights allocations over the next 50 years (2021–70) will decrease relative to the past 50 years (1971–2020). The modeling also projects an increase in multiyear drought events that hinder reservoir management strategies to maintain high storage levels. In most cases, changes in reservoir inflows from distant upstream snowmelt is projected to have a greater influence on reservoir storage and water availability downstream of the reservoirs than will changes in local evaporation and precipitation from the reservoir surfaces.

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Earth Interactions