The impacts of climatic changes for water resources of the Colorado and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basins

Peter H. Gleick, Elizabeth L. Chalecki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


A wide variety of regional assessments of the water-related impacts of climatic change have been done over the past two decades, using different methods, approaches, climate models, and assumptions. As part of the Water Sector research for the National Assessment of the Implications of Climatic Variability and Change for the United States, several major summaries have been prepared, looking at the differences and similarities in results among regional research projects. Two such summaries are presented here, for the Colorado River Basin and the Sacramento River Basin. Both of these watersheds are vitally important to the social, economic, and ecological character of their regions; both are large snowmelt-driven basins; both have extensive and complex water management systems in place; and both have had numerous, independent studies done on them. This review analyzes the models, methods, climate assumptions, and conclusions from these studies, and places them in the context of the new climate scenarios developed for the National Assessment. Some significant and consistent impacts have been identified for these basins, across a wide range of potential climate changes. Among the most important is the shift in the timing of runoff that results from changes in snowfall and snowmelt dynamics. This shift has been seen in every regional result across these two basins despite differences in models and climate change assumptions. The implications of these impacts for water management, planning, and policy are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1429-1441
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Climatic change
  • Droughts
  • Floods
  • Modeling
  • Water policy
  • Water resources
  • Watershed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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