$20 Million Grant Goes to California Lab to Study Warming on the Colorado

The mountainous headwaters of the East River catchment, located in the Upper Colorado River Basin, serves as a test bed for the SFA team studying the impact of climate change on the Colorado River basin..

Roy Kaltschmidt (2014)/ Berkeley Lab.

The mountainous headwaters of the East River catchment, located in the Upper Colorado River Basin, serves as a test bed for the Scientific Focus Area team studying the impact of climate change on the Colorado River.

The Department of Energy has granted $20 million to researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to lead a three-year research project in the Upper Colorado River Basin, where they will study the processes that influence water availability and water quality as a result of climate change.

Much of the river system has been stressed by drought halfway into a second decade, with warming often cited as a contributing factor.

“We want to understand the factors that will influence the Colorado River (in sustaining) its delivery of water to downstream users, including residents in the state of California,” said Kenneth Williams, the deputy lead of the project, according to a report in dailycal.org. In the end, he said, researchers hope to have a firm understanding of the impact of climate disturbances or disturbance events on the flow of water and nutrients.

One aim of the research will be to determine whether plants, because of warming, grow earlier in the season and for longer times or continue to use water and release nutrients in the way they always have, said the story by Simmone Shah.

The research site is the mountainous East River watershed in the Upper Colorado River Basin, according to a report on the Berkeley Lab’s website. “Mountainous watersheds are recognized as the ‘water towers’ of the Earth,” with the  Upper Colorado basin supplying water to more than one in ten Americans, irrigation water and nutrients to more than 5.5 million acres of land, and more than 4,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power.”

(The East River is part of the Gunnison River Basin, flowing south to Almont where it joins the Taylor River to form the Gunnison.)

“As a resident of a state where we are fundamentally dependent on the Colorado River, I am excited to participate in a project that is looking to understand the impact of system disturbance on the Colorado River system,” Williams said.

California along with Arizona and Nevada comprise the lower basin states, while Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico are the upper basin states. The river’s waters were divided among the states by the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the so-called law of the river, with Mexico achieving a share by treaty in 1948.

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have received a $20 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the impact of climate warming on the Colorado River Basin. The "scientific focus area" is the East River catchment outside Crested Butte.

Roy Kaltschmidt/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/Courtes

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have received a $20 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the impact of climate warming on the Colorado River Basin. The “scientific focus area” is the East River catchment near Crested Butte.

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This story was updated on July 27 to eliminate a duplication in paragraphs.

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