Study: Climate Change Hurting Western Snow, Water

On Sept. 21, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) released a report documenting the climate disruption the group states is already underway in the West.

According to the new RMCO analysis, in recent years temperatures across the West have averaged 1.5°F to 2.5°F above the historical average, the hottest in at least the past 100 years. The warming has been more pronounced in the winter, with recent January temperatures averaging 3.1°F to 4.3°F above historical levels. Snowpacks are down, too. From 1990 on, snowpack levels in the West's major river basins have been below average for 10 to 14 of those 16 years, depending on the basin.

RMCO president Stephen Saunders said, "Scientists say that in the West human-caused climate change will lead to more heat, less snow, less water when we need it, and possibly more drought. Our analysis shows that this climate disruption is already underway. In the West's four largest river basins, temperatures are up and snowpack levels are down. These changes hit at the West's greatest vulnerability, not enough water, because snowmelt provides 70 percent of our water in the region. Quite simply, climate disruption threatens the qualities that makes the West such a special place."

At a news conference on Sept. 21, Chips Barry, manager of Denver Water, Colorado's largest water utility, said, "All of us, water utilities included, act on the assumption that the future will be a lot like the past. I'm now a lot less confident of that than I used to be. We know that global warming is occurring, and that means much greater uncertainty about our future water supplies."

John Stencel, president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said, "Farmers and ranchers are at the mercy of the weather. This report shows that climate change is already making the weather worse for farmers and ranchers. The drought of 2002 drove a lot of farmers and ranchers out of business across the West. The report shows that those kinds of harsh conditions are likely to become more common."


This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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