Climate Change Resilience

Multi-agency study shows SRP’s reservoirs are prepared for climate change

September 2, 2020

For over 100 years the Salt River Project has supplied water to the Salt River Valley, but how will a changing climate and future demand impact the SRP reservoir system? Are today’s strategies adequate to the climate challenges ahead? Those are the questions scientists from SRP, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Arizona State University have been asking and the results from a recent report indicate that the watersheds that provide SRP reservoirs with water are well situated to provide a reliable water supply even amidst the most severe climate change projections.

The report found that SRP’s water supplies are less sensitive to climate change than other regions of the western United States. Runoff within the Salt River system occurs earlier in the season, resulting in losses that are less than other parts of the country, such as the Upper Colorado River Basin where runoff occurs later in the spring and summer.

“This study confirms that SRP’s reservoir system, which has water storage capacity that allows for year-over-year carryover of waters from the Salt and Verde Rivers, will be a critical tool in managing a future with higher temperatures and increased variability. This gives us confidence that through continued conservation and proactive management of our surface water and groundwater supplies SRP can continue to deliver reliable water supplies to the Valley, even in light of climate change.” says Charlie Ester, Manager of Surface Water Resources at SRP.

The research also showed that the projected future changes in streamflow are within the range SRP uses today to plan for worst-case scenario drought conditions. This means that while we might experience deeper droughts and hotter temperatures due to climate change, SRP’s historic reservoir planning strategy is designed to address those changes. Even still, SRP continues to proactively plan for the future to ensure that the water infrastructure that has served the Valley for more than a century will reliably do so for another 100 years to come.

“SRP’s water storage infrastructure is designed to manage the highly variables flows produced by the Salt and Verde Rivers. Knowing that the system is sufficient to allow for reliable water supplies under a broad range of future conditions gives SRP confidence that operating the reservoir system under its current adaptive procedures will continue to ensure a sustainable water supply,” says Bruce Hallin, Director of Water Supply at SRP. “SRP will continue to proactively maintain our system of dams reservoirs, wells, and canals to ensure that we can meet the needs of our water users into the future.”

This study builds on important climate and streamflow research done in cooperation with Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and others. “This cooperation with Reclamation and area universities really speaks to SRP’s commitment to funding and participating in climate change research,” says Ester. “SRP’s water customers can have greater confidence knowing that SRP is always thinking ahead when it comes to our water supplies.”