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Predicting impacts of climate change on water supply: Mount Rainier National Park

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Author(s): Rachel M. Fricke, Rebecca A. Lofgren

Document Type: Natural Resource Report NPS/MORA/NRR—2022/2400
Publisher: National Park Service
Published Year: 2022
Pages: 27
DOI Identifier: 10.36967/nrr-2293534
ISBN Identifier:

Mount Rainier National Park's (MORA) water supply primarily depends on streams and lakes fed by snowmelt and perennial snowfields. The loss of perennial snowfields during the past thirty years, combined with the potential for lower annual snowpack and increased air temperatures, could have profound implications for Park water supplies. Warming temperatures correspond with shifts from solid to liquid precipitation resulting in earlier snowmelt. In response to increasing Park visitation, multiple stressors on sensitive aquatic organisms, and projected climate changes, MORA is taking steps to develop a range of water supply options and park management strategies to adapt to climate change.

As a case study, warm winter temperatures during water year 2015 had a profound effect on snowpack in MORA. During the months when most snow is deposited in our mountains (December to March), temperatures typically averaged more than 3°C above normal. Although precipitation was near normal, warmer temperatures caused much of this precipitation to fall as rain, resulting in an unusually low snowpack. These conditions stressed water supplies that are critical to Park operations, and likely stressed sensitive aquatic species (e.g., cold-water fishes and insects) downstream of water supply intakes as a consequence of elevated stream temperatures and low stream flow. Conditions resembling historical droughts, including the recent 2015 event, are projected to be more likely within this century as the climate warms across the region. These changes are likely to coincide with increased Park visitation and greater stresses on sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

In order to provide sufficient context for our analysis, we have summarized MORA’s current water supply demands, history of development, issues, changes over time, and potential impacts to aquatic organisms. Focusing on key water supply systems within the Park, we estimated the potential maximum use and storage capacity of existing water. We then scaled region-wide streamflow projections under multiple emission scenarios to water supply intake drainage basins to evaluate future water supply scenarios within the Park. Our findings suggest the most viable immediate options for securing water supplies long-term include increasing system storage capacity and adding groundwater sources. These results can be used to directly inform current Park planning efforts and potential management actions to adapt to changing visitation demands, infrastructure needs, and climate change.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Fricke and Lofgren (2022) or (Fricke and Lofgren, 2022)

References Citation:
Fricke, R.M. and R.A. Lofgren, 2022, Predicting impacts of climate change on water supply: Mount Rainier National Park: Natural Resource Report NPS/MORA/NRR—2022/2400, National Park Service, 27 p., doi: 10.36967/nrr-2293534.