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Identifying climate change impacts on surface water supply in the southern Central Valley, California.


Mountain regions in arid and semi-arid climates, such as California, are considered particularly sensitive to climate change because global warming is expected to alter snowpack storage and related surface water supply. It is therefore important to accurately capture snowmelt processes in watershed models for climate change impact assessment. In this study we use the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to estimate projected changes in snowpack and streamflow in four alpine tributaries to the agriculturally important but less studied southern Central Valley, California. Watershed responses are evaluated for four CMIP5 climate models (HadGEM_ES, CNRM-CM5, CanESM2 and MIROC5) and two emission scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5) for 2020-2099. SWAT models are calibrated following a dual-objective, lumped calibration approach with an automatic calibration against observed streamflow (stage 1) and a manual calibration against reconstructed Parallel Energy Balance (ParBal) snow water equivalent (SWE) data (stage 2). Results indicate that under a warming climate, peak streamflow is expected to increase 0.5-4 times in magnitude in the coming decades and to arrive 2-4 months earlier in the year because of earlier snowmelt. In the foreseeable future, snow cover will reduce gradually in the lower elevations and diminish at higher rates at higher elevation towards the end of the 21st century. Surface water supply is predicted to increase in the southern Central Valley under the evaluated scenarios but increased temporal variability (wetter wet seasons and drier dry seasons) will create new challenges for managing supply. The study further highlights that the use of remote sensing based, reconstructed SWE data could fill the current gap of limited in-situ SWE observations to improve the snow calibration of SWAT to better predict climate change impacts in semi-arid, snow-dominated watersheds.

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