State of the Rockies Project: Whither climate variability in the Colorado River basin?


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Climate variability was one of the areas student researchers at Colorado College included in this year’s “State of the Rockies” report card, unveiled last week. The students recommended legal changes and management options that maintain the sustainability of the river.

It’s important to the Arkansas River basin because more than half of the water supply for its largest cities, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, comes from the Colorado River. Some of the water for farms is also imported, and the additional water has improved recreation opportunities in the Arkansas River basin. Without imports from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes and other transmountain diversions, the cities would further dip into the water supplies used for agriculture and recreation that sustain the rest of the Arkansas Valley. “Generally arid climate makes the Colorado River basin particularly susceptible to climate variability,” the Colorado College report states.

The wide swing in water availability has little to do with the well-publicized — sometimes disputed — warnings of global warming in the 21st century. Instead, knowledge of past conditions is tied to a growing body of scientific evidence found in tree-ring studies. Trees add more growth when times are wet, and are an accurate indicator of drought…

In recent talks, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs said those who drafted the Colorado Compact realized the variability of flows in the river and tried to account for the difference in wet and dry years. “This idea that we don’t have to build new reservoirs — forgive me — doesn’t hold water,” Hobbs said…

“I’ve often wondered what the Anasazi thought when they packed up and left,” said John Stulp, water policy adviser for Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a water conference earlier this year. “If I could go back and tell the chief that Colorado would have a population of 5 million people in 2012 that would double in 50 years, what would he think? Yet today, we have the same water resources as Mother Nature chooses to drop on us.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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