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Climate change in the Pacific Northwest and in particular, the Salmon River Basin (SRB), is expected to bring about 3–5 °C rise in temperatures and an 8 % increase in precipitation. In order to assess the impacts due to these changes at the basin scale, this study employed an improved version of Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model, which includes a parallel version of VIC combined with a comprehensive parameter estimation technique, Shuffled Complex Evolution (SCE) to estimate the streamflow and other water balance components. Our calibration (1955–1975) and validation (1976–1999) of the model at the outlet of the basin, White Bird, resulted in an r2 value of 0.94 which was considered satisfactory. Subsequent center of timing analysis showed that a gradual advancement of snowmelt induced-peak flow advancing by about 10 days in the future. Historically, the flows have shown a general decline in the basin, and in the future while the magnitudes might not be greatly affected, decreasing runoff of about 3 % over the next 90 years could be expected and timing of peak flow would shift by approximately 10 days. Also, a significant reduction of snow water equivalent up to 25 %, increased evapotranspiration up to 14 %, and decreased soil moisture storages of about 2 % is predicted by the model. A steady decline in SWE/P from the majority of climate model projections for the basin was also evident. Thus, the earlier snowmelt, decreasing soil moisture and increased evapotranspiration collectively implied the potential to trigger drought in the basin and could affect the quality of aquatic habitats and their spawning and a detailed investigation on these impacts is warranted.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final publication is available at Copyright restrictions may apply. DOI: 10.1007/s00382-012-1467-0