The Red River is a vital source of water in the South Central U.S., supporting municipal water supplies and ecosystems and feeding the region’s agricultural and recreation economies. Stretching from the High Plains of New Mexico eastward to the Mississippi, the Red River basin encompasses parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana, as well as 74% of the jurisdictional boundaries of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes.
WHAT: The Red River runs through an arid region, so it’s normal for stream flow to vary widely and even be intermittent in some places. Yet in recent years, the South Central has experienced a particularly damaging multi-year drought. Tribes, ecosystems, and agriculture have all been impacted. “Some municipalities in our area have come pretty close to running out of water,” said Wayne Kellogg, an engineer with the Chickasaw Nation.
With climate models projecting longer-lasting and more severe droughts for the region in the future, it’s important for tribes and municipalities to start preparing for drier conditions now. To help resource managers understand how the Red River’s water supply could be impacted, researchers developed climate models for the basin to see how temperature and precipitation might change. From these projections, researchers were able to assess how stream flow might change in the future.
FINDINGS:Results show the western part of the Red River basin is at the greatest risk of experiencing reduced flow. Further, throughout the basin, peak flows will be higher and low flows will be lower – a finding that is consistent with the expectation that future floods will be more severe and droughts will be more extreme.
SIGNIFICANCE:The results are being used by tribes and municipalities across the region to prepare for changes in the Red River basin’s water supply. By understanding how future climate conditions might alter water availability for consumptive and non-consumptive uses, communities can develop informed drought management plans. The Chickasaw Nation is already using these models in its drought contingency planning efforts. “Climate models show we can expect longer-lasting and more severe drought in the future,” Kellogg explained. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prepare now.”