Since 1890, Colorado has experienced a number of widespread drought periods; the most recent statewide drought began during 1999 and includes 2002, a year characterized by precipitation, snowpack accumulation, and streamflows that were much lower than normal. Because the drought of 2002 had a substantial effect on streamflows in Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, began a study in 2004 to analyze statewide streamflows during 2002 and develop a historical perspective of those streamflows. The purpose of this report is to describe an analysis of streamflows recorded throughout Colorado during the drought of 2002, as well as other drought years such as 1977, and to provide some historical perspective of drought-diminished streamflows in Colorado.
Because most streamflows in Colorado are derived from melting of mountain snowpacks during April through July, streamflows primarily were analyzed for the snowmelt (high-flow) period, but streamflows also were analyzed for the winter (low-flow) period. The snowmelt period is defined as April 1 through September 30 and the winter period is defined as October 1 through March 31. Historical daily average streamflows were analyzed on the basis of 7, 30, 90, and 180 consecutive-day periods (N-day) for 154 selected stations in Colorado. Methods used for analysis of the N-day snowmelt and winter streamflows include evaluation of trends in the historical streamflow records, computation of the rank of each annual N-day streamflow value for each station, analysis for years other than 2002 and 1977 with drought-diminished streamflows, and frequency analysis (on the basis of nonexceedance probability) of the 180-day streamflows.
Ranking analyses for the N-day snowmelt streamflows indicated that streamflows during 2002 were ranked as the lowest or second lowest historical values at 114-123 stations, or about 74-80 percent of the stations; by comparison, the N-day snowmelt streamflows during 1977 were ranked as the lowest or second lowest historical values at 69-87 stations, or about 47-59 percent of the stations. Many of the stations in the mountainous headwaters where snowmelt streamflows were ranked lowest during 2002 were ranked second lowest during 1977. These results indicate that snowmelt streamflows during 2002 were considerably more diminished than those during 1977.
The 180-day snowmelt streamflows were ranked among the five lowest historical values at about 90 percent of the stations during 2002 and were ranked among the five lowest historical values at about 77 percent of the stations during 1977. Other years during which the 180-day snowmelt streamflows were ranked among the five lowest values at a substantial percentage of stations include 1934, 1954, 1963, and 1981, but the percentages of stations with 180-day snowmelt streamflows ranked among the five lowest values were smaller during those years than during 2002 and 1977.
Frequency analysis of snowmelt streamflows indicated that recurrence intervals for the 180-day snowmelt streamflows during 2002 were greater than 50 years for about 57 percent of the stations and were more than 100 years for about 14 percent of the stations. By comparison, recurrence intervals for the 180-day snowmelt streamflows during 1977 were greater than 50 years only for about 15 percent of the stations and were more than 100 years only for about 1 percent of the stations. Generally, snowmelt streamflows during 2002 were more diminished and have higher recurrence intervals than snowmelt streamflows during 1977.
The N-day winter streamflows during 2002 and 1977 were not ranked among the five lowest historical values at about 86-103 stations, or about 58-70 percent of the stations, compared to about 10-27 percent of the stations for the N-day snowmelt streamflows. These results indicate that winter streamflows during the 2002 and 1977 droughts were diminished to a lesser extent than t