Tree-Ring Perspectives on the Colorado River: Looking Back and Moving Forward

David M. Meko, Connie A. Woodhouse, Anabel G. Winitsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Tree rings have been central to the understanding of variability of flow of the Colorado River. Spurred by steadily declining flows after the 1920s, early tree-ring research drew attention to the importance of climate variability to water supply by identifying episodes in the past that were even drier. Application of modern statistical methods to tree-ring data later yielded a reconstruction of annual flows at Lees Ferry back to the early 1500s that highlighted the unprecedented wetness of the base period for the 1922 Colorado River Compact. That reconstruction served as the framework for a collection of papers in a 1995 special issue of Water Resources Bulletin on coping with severe sustained drought on the Colorado River. This retrospective paper reviews historical aspects of the dendrohydrology of the Colorado River, and the updates since 1995. A constantly expanding tree-ring network has been subjected to an array of new statistical approaches to reconstruction. Climate change and increasing demand for water have meanwhile driven increased interest in the processing and presentation of reconstructions for optimal use in water resources planning and management. While highlighting the robustness of main findings of earlier studies, recent research yields improved estimates of magnitudes of flow anomalies, extends annual flows to more than 1200 years, and underscores unmatched drought duration in the medieval period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-621
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Colorado River
  • dendrohydrology
  • drought
  • streamflow reconstruction
  • tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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