The Bureau of Reclamation has implemented a long-term planning study of potential water-storage alternatives in the Yakima River Basin, which includes planning for climate change effects on available water resources in the basin. Previously constructed watershed models for the Yakima River Basin were used to simulate changes in unregulated streamflow under two warmer climate scenarios, one representing a 1 degree C increase in the annual air temperature over current conditions (plus one scenario) and one representing a 2 degree C increase in the annual air temperature over current conditions (plus two scenario). Simulations were done for water years 1981 through 2005 and the results were compared to simulated unregulated runoff for the same period using recorded daily precipitation, and minimum and maximum air temperatures (base conditions). Precipitation was not altered for the two warmer climate change scenarios.
Simulated annual runoff for the plus one and plus two scenarios decreased modestly from the base conditions, but the seasonal distribution and the general pattern of runoff proved to be highly sensitive to temperature changes throughout the basin. Seasonally increased runoff was simulated during the late autumn and winter months for both the plus one and plus two scenarios compared to base conditions. Comparisons at six principal regulatory locations in the basin showed that the maximum percentage increases in runoff over the base conditions during December to March varied from 24 to 48 percent for the plus one scenario and 59 to 94 percent for the plus two scenario. During late spring and summer months, significantly decreased runoff was simulated at these sites for both scenarios compared to base conditions. Simulated maximum decreases in runoff occurred during June and July, and the changes ranged from -22 to -51 percent for the plus one scenario and -44 to -76 percent for the plus two scenario. Differences in total annual runoff at these sites ranged from -1.4 to -3.9 percent for the plus one scenario and from -2.5 to -8.2 percent for the plus two scenario. The percent change of the monthly mean runoff for both scenarios from the base conditions at many points in the basin will be used in a water-management model developed by the Bureau of Reclamation to assess various storage alternatives.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of Potential Future Warming on Runoff in the Yakima River Basin, Washington