July 27, 2012
Professors from the University of Wyoming are embarking on a supercomputing project to develop simulation models to study the hydrology of the Colorado River Basin. A goal of the project is to help communities in the basin plan and manage water use, balancing growth in the region with obligations to keep water flowing to downstream states.
Using data collected by a UW field hydrologist, mathematics professor Craig Douglas will model the data using the National Center for Atmospheric Research Wyoming Supercomputing Center.
The team hopes to give communities the ability to forecast water levels.
According to UW, the 1922 Colorado River Basin Compact requires that Upper Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — provide a minimum of 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually to the Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada. (One acre foot of water is one acre of water a foot deep, roughly enough water for a family of four for one year.)
Green River, Lake Powell modeling
The Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, will be modeled first by the team.
The Green River Basin is an area that floods in the summer and receives snow melt and provides attractive geographical features for study. Additionally, historical data are available for the basin and sensors are already are in place, allowing for optical remote-sensing technology (lidar) to collect data.
Lake Powell, at the Arizona and Utah borders, stores 24.3 million acre feet of water and will also be scrutinized.
Regional drought and water use
Water levels in Lake Powell are lower than they were 50 years ago, said Douglas, meaning there is less water in storage to send to states in the Lower Basin. With less water, Upper Basin states would need to rely on more precipitation, snowmelt and water run-off — all problematic in long-term drought conditions.
Without decreasing the amount of water the Upper Basin has to provide the Lower Basin under the 1922 Colorado River Basin Compact, the population in the Upper Basin would have to significantly curtail their water use, said Douglas.
The UW Colorado River Basin project is part of the university’s research with the CI-WATER project, which will develop a high-resolution hydrologic model for the Rocky Mountain West to help assess long-term impacts of water-resources management decisions, natural and man-made land-use changes, and climate variability.