Potential implications of PCM climate change scenarios for Sacramento – San Joaquin River Basin hydrology and water resources


VanRheenen, N.T., Wood, A.W., Palmer, R.N., Lettenmaier, D.P. 2004. Potential implications of PCM climate change scenarios for Sacramento – San Joaquin River Basin hydrology and water resources. Climatic Change 62(1-3): 257-281.


The potential effects of climate change on the hydrology and water resources of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin were evaluated using ensemble climate simulations generated by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Center for Atmospheric Research Parallel Climate Model (DOE/NCAR PCM).

Five PCM scenarios were employed. The first three were ensemble runs from 1995-2099 with a “business as usual” global emissions scenario, each with different atmospheric initializations. The fourth was a “control climate” scenario with greenhouse gas emissions set at 1995 levels and run through 2099. The fifth was a historical climate simulation forced with evolving greenhouse gas concentrations from 1870-2000, from which a 50-year portion is taken for use in bias-correction of the other runs.

From these global simulations, transient monthly temperature and precipitation sequences were statistically downscaled to produce continuous daily hydrologic model forcings, which drove a macro-scale hydrology model of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basins at a 1/8 degree spatial resolution, and produced daily streamflow sequences for each climate scenario. Each streamflow scenario was used in a water resources system model that simulated current and predicted future performance of the system.

The progressive warming of the PCM scenarios (approximately 1.2 °C at mid-century, and 2.2 °C by the 2090s), coupled with reductions in winter and spring precipitation (from 10 to 25%), markedly reduced late spring snowpack (by as much as half on average by the end of the century). Progressive reductions in winter, spring, and summer streamflow were less severe in the northern part of the study domain than in the south, where a seasonality shift was apparent. Results from the water resources system model indicate that achieving and maintaining status quo (control scenario climate) system performance in the future would be nearly impossible, given the altered climate scenario hydrologies. The most comprehensive of the mitigation alternatives examined satisfied only 87-96% of environmental targets in the Sacramento system, and less than 80% in the San Joaquin system. It is evident that demand modification and system infrastructure improvements will be required to account for the volumetric and temporal shifts in flows predicted to occur with future climates in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River basins.

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accelerated Climate Prediction Initiative in addition to support from the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO).