- Streamflow -- Columbia River (Or. And Wash.) -- Measurement,
- Streamflow -- Columbia River (Or. And Wash.) -- Effect of climatic change on
The Columbia River has historically been a major source of economic activity for the Pacific Northwest, and is one of the more heavily modified rivers in the United States today. Understanding human and climate-induced changes in its hydrologic properties is, therefore, a topic of considerable interest. Long streamflow records are essential to determining how runoff has changed over time. Daily streamflow records of the Columbia River at The Dalles dates back to June 1978. However, the observed daily flow does not alone provide enough information to understand or separate anthropogenic and climate effects. It is necessary also to have an estimate of virgin flow of the river to provide a historical perspective of water resources development, separate anthropogenic and climate effects, and compare present water use scenarios with those of the past decades. The United State Geological Survey (USGS) has calculated a monthly averaged adjusted river flow at The Dalles for 1879-1999 that accounts for the effects of flow regulation. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has estimated the monthly averaged virgin (or naturalized) flow at The Dalles, i.e., the flow in the absence of both flow regulation and irrigation depletion for 1929-89. We have estimated the monthly virgin flow of the Columbia River at The Dalles from records of irrigated area for the missing years, i.e., for the period 1879-1928. In addition, a filtered version of the daily observed flows were combined with monthly virgin flow corrections to obtain estimates of daily virgin flows with realistic higher moments and spectral properties. Examination of the virgin flow record shows that climate change since late 19th century has caused a decrease of >7% in its annual average flow volume. The decrease in flow due to irrigation diversion during the same period is also ~7%. Broadly speaking, there are three periods of Columbia River flow management. Before 1900, mainstem dams were absent and flow diversions relatively small. Numerous dams were constructed between 1900 and 1970, and irrigation depletion increased 500%. Since about 1970, river flows have been managed on a system-wide basin, effecting significant interannual transfers of flows for the first time.