The Southwestern United States has a greater vulnerability to climate change impacts on water security due to a reliance on snowmelt driven imported water. The State of California, which is the most populous and agriculturally productive in the United States, depends on an extensive artificial water storage and conveyance system primarily for irrigated agriculture, municipal and industrial supply and hydropower generation. Here we take an integrative high-resolution ensemble modeling approach to examine near term climate change impacts on all imported and local sources of water supply to Southern California. While annual precipitation is projected to remain the same or slightly increase, rising temperatures result in a shift towards more rainfall, reduced cold season snowpack and earlier snowmelt. Associated with these hydrological changes are substantial increases in the frequency and the intensity of both drier conditions and flooding events. The 50 year extreme daily maximum precipitation and runoff events are 1.5–6 times more likely to occur depending on the water supply basin. Simultaneously, a clear deficit in total annual runoff over mountainous snow generating regions like the Sierra Nevada is projected. On one hand, the greater probability of drought decreases imported water supply availability. On the other hand, earlier snowmelt and significantly stronger winter precipitation events pose increased flood risk requiring water releases from control reservoirs, which may potentially decrease water availability outside of the wet season. Lack of timely local water resource expansion coupled with projected climate changes and population increases may leave the area in extended periods of shortages.
Pagán, Brianna R, et al. “Extreme Hydrological Changes in the Southwestern US Drive Reductions in Water Supply to Southern California by Mid Century.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 11, no. 9, 2016.