USGS: What Water Worries Will Climate Change Bring?

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The United States Geological Service is modeling the effects of climate change on various basins around the U.S. Here’s a release from the agency (Kara Capelli):

“We are unlikely to see a ‘water-as-usual’ future.” – Marcia McNutt, USGS Director

Arguably, the most important impacts of climate change – including those to ecosystems, agriculture, energy, and industry – will be tied to changes in water availability, especially as the world becomes increasingly water-stressed. It’s crucial that water managers understand the likely impacts of climate change, so that they can plan for new conditions and challenges.

How will your water be affected?

Understanding the impacts that climate change will have on water availability in specific regions and communities is a mammoth task. Water availability in every region, basin, and watershed will be affected differently, depending on the specific precipitation and hydrologic conditions in that area.

Also, for all of the models and technology we have available at our 21st century finger tips, weather patterns are still notoriously unpredictable. Forecasting future precipitation conditions is even more difficult, especially under new climate scenarios, and changes to weather patterns will vary across the country.

Complicating water availability predictions further, each basin has its own unique set of hydrologic and geologic features that affect how much water is available, where that water comes from, and how it flows through a system.

Little by little, though, scientists are beginning to build the information and tools to understand the nuanced effects of climate change to the Nation’s water resources.

USGS predicting changes to water availability in 14 basins across the Nation

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists from the USGS have predicted changes to water resources for 14 different basins across the country.

First, the scientists downscaled vast climate models, in order to understand changes in temperature and precipitation specific to the 14 study basins. They then used USGS hydrologic models and streamgage information to project how water resources will be impacted by the changing weather patterns, taking into account specific hydrologic and geologic features in each basin, such as snowpack, drought, and groundwater conditions.

For example, the USGS models project that changes to snowpack in the Sprague River Basin in Oregon could cause annual peak streamflows to occur earlier in the spring as overall basin storage decreases. This means that managers may be forced to modify storage operation and reprioritize water delivery for environmental and human needs.

In many areas the biggest impacts to water resources will be a factor of reduced snowpack. For example snowpack in the headwaters of the Colorado River could affect the amount and timing of streamflow to the Colorado River and also impact important recreation areas.

Portions of Maine may see higher streamflows, which could affect populations of endangered Atlantic salmon. On the other hand, areas of the already drought-stressed Flint River Basin, one of Atlanta’s primary drinking water supplies, are projected to become even drier.

More USGS coverage here.

Drought/runoff news: Next up, the North American Monsoon?

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I ride a bicycle to work most days and for most errands so rain in the forecast is always a pain in the derriere. I also work for a water provider faced with a vanishing snowpack and a huge increase in consumption this spring. The realization that our storage will not fill as usual has us looking hopefully at the coming monsoon season both for summer stormflows to divert and to dampen demand for outdoor irrigation.

Meterologist, Brian Bledsoe, is optimistic about the monsoon and for the prospects of a cold and wet fall, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“I’m most encouraged that we’re going to see a summer monsoon season,” television meteorologist Brian Bledsoe told a drought preparedness workshop last week at the Colorado State Fairgrounds.

The workshop attracted about 50 people, mostly farmers and ranchers from Pueblo, Fremont and Huerfano counties. The daylong event provided information about rangeland management, weed control and farm economics as the area endures its second year of drought. After an early runoff, state snowpack is at 12 percent of average.

While many weather forecasts pay attention to the broad trends associated with La Nina and El Nino — cooling or warming of the Pacific Ocean — there are other climate patterns that influence Colorado’s weather, Bledsoe said. A particularly good indicator is the highly variable Madden-Julian Oscillation, which originates in the Indian Ocean. Other seasonal and multiyear patterns over the Pacific Ocean and North Pole play a part, as does the solar cycle.

The upshot of Bledsoe’s calculations show a good chance that La Nina is over and El Nino is coming. That could mean heavier rains in late summer and fall, like the region saw in 2009, the wettest year of the decade in Pueblo.

The winter is also likely to be colder than usual, with chances of snow depending on what happens with moisture in the Southwest U.S. in the next few months. Conditions could be similar to the winter of 2006-07, when several blizzards hit the Eastern Plains.

Bledsoe showed several climate models that predict with some certainty that an El Nino is brewing in the Pacific Ocean, which usually means more moisture for Southern Colorado. The projections vary wildly as they go further out in time, but there is some degree of confidence that patterns will change in the next few months, he said.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stenslund):

Conditions are drastically different compared to last year, when record snowpack led to a swollen Yampa River…According to preliminary data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, the flows on the Yampa peaked this spring on either April 27 or May 6, when flows were measured at about 1,570 cfs. The peak will not be made official until the data is analyzed this fall.

Craig Peterson, a hydrologist with the Forecast Center, said the earliest peak on record for the Yampa downtown was April 26, 1974, when the flow was measured at 5,790 cfs. The records go back to 1904.

According to data from the Tower snow measuring station 10,500 feet above sea level on Buffalo Pass, 35 inches of snow remains, containing the equivalent of 16.3 inches of water. The historic average snow-water equivalent for May 18 is 50.7 inches of water. On May 18, 2011, the snow-water equivalent at the Tower measuring station was 74 inches, which was 146 percent of average, and the number still was growing. The snow-water equivalent did not peak last year until May 29, when the snow held 80.1 inches of water.

Sterling: Northeastern Junior College Water Festival welcomes 336 third through sixth grade students

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From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

Another presenter was Jennifer Talagrad, from the University of Colorado, who talked about marine biology. During the presentation students learned about various life forms that can be found in different parts of the ocean, from tide pools and kelp forests to coral reefs and the deep sea…

Katie Boyd, from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, led the “Let’s Play and Make It Rain,” presentation. Students learned about how rain is measured, by making their own rain with water guns and measuring it in rain gauges. Boyd talked to the students about how scientists measure the amount of precipitation an area gets, telling them it’s important that they know even if it didn’t rain, so they know exactly what happened each day.

More education coverage here.