Upper gila, salt, and verde rivers: Arid land rivers in a changing climate

Connie A. Woodhouse, Bradley Udall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The major tributary of the Lower Colorado River, the Gila River, is a critical source of water for human and natural environments in the Southwestern US. Warmer and drier than the Upper Colorado River basin (UCRB), with less snow, and a bi-modal precipitation regime, the Gila River is controlled by a set of climatic conditions that is different from the controls on Upper Colorado River flow. Unlike the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, the Upper Gila River and major Gila River tributaries, the Salt and Verde Rivers, do not yet reflect significant declines in annual streamflow, in spite of warming trends. Annual streamflow is dominated by cool season precipitation, but the monsoon influence is discernable as well, variable across the basin and complicated by an inverse relationship with cool season precipitation in the Salt and Verde River basins. Major multi-year streamflow droughts in these two basins have frequently been accompanied by wet monsoons, suggesting that monsoon precipitation may partially offset the impacts of a dry cool season. While statistically significant trends in annual streamflow are not evident, decreases in fall and spring streamflow reflect warming temperatures and some decreases in spring precipitation. Because climatic controls vary with topography and the influence of the monsoon, the impacts of warming on streamflow in the three sub-basins is somewhat variable. However, given relationships between climate and streamflow, current trends in hydroclimate, and projections for the future, it would be prudent to expect declines in Gila River water supplies in the coming decades.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-47
Number of pages47
JournalEarth Interactions
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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