Drying Surface Water Resources in the Chuska Mountains, Navajo Nation

Authors: Rebecca Brice*, University of Arizona
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Mountain Environments, Natural Resources
Keywords: hydroclimate, water resources, stakeholder engagement
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Records of hydroclimate for the Navajo Nation are acutely limited. Recent decades are characterized by declining snow water equivalent in snowpack and warming temperatures in northeastern Arizona. At the same time, tribal members report that snowmelt-fed lakes at the crest of the Chuskas which support Navajo agriculture, stock animals, wildlife, fish and community resources have begun to go dry from extended drought. Without hydroclimatic records to document the natural variability of water resources in the Chuska Mountains, anticipating water availability for the Navajo Nation's most populated and economically productive areas is difficult. Recent efforts have attempted to use satellite derived data to generate information about drought for the Navajo Nation. This study, in collaboration with the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, Water Management Branch (WMB), is use-inspired research guided by WMB questions about managing surface water resources in the Chuskas. To address WMB management concerns, periods of exceptionally dry and warm conditions during the instrumental record (1984-2016) are compared with output of satellite-based lake area estimations to examine the relationship between lake levels, snowpack and temperature. Correlation analysis is used to investigate the spatio-temporal relationship between these hydroclimatic variables and the amount of water in Chuska lakes. Lake level response function to temperature, snowpack and summer precipitation suggests an important influence of rising temperatures on declining lake levels. This information reduces uncertainty around variability in the Chuska climate system and is intended to inform WMB evaluation of water scarcity implications, assisting with drought planning and decision-making.

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