Document Type


Publication Date



Historical and future drought and surplus periods in the Colorado River basin are evaluated based on eight climate scenarios. Unimpaired streamflow from 17 stations in the Colorado River are evaluated based on U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Reclamation, and Coupled Modeled Intercomparison Projection 5 downscaled data from 1950–2099. Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 emission scenarios are considered for four climate models (HadGEM2-ES, CNRM-CM5, CanESM2, MI-ROC5). Drought (surplus) quantities, magnitudes, severities, and water year flows are compared for the historical and future periods. Results indicate that there is a significant difference between the historical record and future projections. The results are not consistent in terms of increase of drought or surplus; however, the intensity (as measured by magnitude and duration) will likely increase for both RCP 4.5 and 8.5. The CanESM2 and CNRM-CM5 models project wetter scenarios, and HadGEM2 and MI-ROC5 models project drier scenarios. For the critical Lees Ferry station, models indicate a chance of higher drought and surplus length and magnitude on the order of two times the historical period. In addition, basin wide flow at Lees Ferry had a shift in the future mean ensemble of approximately 3–10% for the water year. Future hydrologic changes will heighten the need for appropriate management and infrastructure options available to adapt to these changes.


This article was originally published in Hydrology, volume 9, in 2022.


The authors

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.