Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Paul Lander

Second Advisor

Holly Barnard

Third Advisor

Douglas Kenney

Abstract

The goal of this study is to evaluate the current discussion on how climate driven shifts in hydrology will affect water rights and policy on the upper Colorado River. Global and local temperatures have been increasing steadily. In certain areas of Colorado snowmelt has shifted earlier and is likely to continue to do so. Precipitation as snow is decreasing at certain elevations in the Rocky Mountains. Focusing on water users in the western slope of Colorado, these environmental changes suggest a number of shifts in river hydrology. There will likely be less overall storage as snowpack and possibly earlier more pronounced peak flows. It is expected that earlier flow timing could reduce the ability of senior agriculture users to apply water to crop irrigation. This in turn could increase the value of temporary transfer or fallowing strategies proposed to meet anticipated municipal and industrial water needs. Reduction of agricultural production in certain crops, or shifts to crops that use less water or can be irrigated earlier in the season could also be expected. Junior holders will be affected in potentially different ways. Initially as peak flows shift earlier junior rights holders such as fishing or kayaking industries may see a potential benefit in more water available earlier in the season. However, late season shortages as a result of flow shifts have the potential to exacerbate the value of senior rights. My approach is to combine a review of scientific literature, policy literature, and discussions with professionals and experts on these issues to produce an overview that identifies the most prominent issues and consequences concerning these shifts.