California’s primary hydrologic system, the San Francisco Estuary and its upstream watershed, is vulnerable to the regional hydrologic consequences of projected global climate change. Previous work has shown that a projected warming would result in a reduction of snowpack storage leading to higher winter and lower spring-summer streamflows and increased spring-summer salinities in the estuary. The present work shows that these hydrologic changes exhibit a strong dependence on elevation, with the greatest loss of snowpack volume in the 1300–2700 m elevation range. Exploiting hydrologic and estuarine modeling capabilities to trace water as it moves through the system reveals that the shift of water in mid-elevations of the Sacramento river basin from snowmelt to rainfall runoff is the dominant cause of projected changes in estuarine inflows and salinity. Additionally, although spring-summer losses of estuarine inflows are balanced by winter gains, the losses have a stronger influence on salinity since longer spring-summer residence times allow the inflow changes to accumulate in the estuary. The changes in inflows sourced in the Sacramento River basin in approximately the 1300–2200 m elevation range thereby lead to a net increase in estuarine salinity under the projected warming. Such changes would impact ecosystems throughout the watershed and threaten to contaminate much of California’s freshwater supply.