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Tim Bardsley, Andrew Wood, Mike Hobbins, Tracie Kirkham, Laura Briefer, Jeff Niermeyer, and Steven Burian

Abstract

Assessing climate change risk to municipal water supplies is often conducted by hydrologic modeling specific to local watersheds and infrastructure to ensure that outputs are compatible with existing planning frameworks and processes. This study leverages the modeling capacity of an operational National Weather Service River Forecast Center to explore the potential impacts of future climate-driven hydrologic changes on factors important to planning at the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLC). Hydrologic modeling results for the study area align with prior research in showing that temperature changes alone will lead to earlier runoff and reduced runoff volume. The sensitivity of average annual flow to temperature varies significantly between watersheds, averaging −3.8% °F−1 and ranging from −1.8% to −6.5% flow reduction per degree Fahrenheit of warming. The largest flow reductions occur during the high water demand months of May–September. Precipitation drives hydrologic response more strongly than temperature, with each 1% precipitation change producing an average 1.9% runoff change of the same sign. This paper explores the consequences of climate change for the reliability of SLC's water supply system using scenarios that include hydrologic changes in average conditions, severe drought scenarios, and future water demand test cases. The most significant water management impacts will be earlier and reduced runoff volume, which threaten the system's ability to maintain adequate streamflow and storage to meet late-summer water demands.

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