Climate & Colorado’s Water Future workshop — Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Statewide annual average temperature 1900-1912 via Western Water Assessment
Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment

Over the past year two reports about climate change have made their way into the water resources planning discussion. Jeff Lukas, Western Water Assessment was lead author for Climate Change in Colorado:A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation. The report explains the science and the data that make up our current understanding of the effects of climate change on Colorado water resources.

The second report, Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study was produced by Western Water Assessment, CSU and CU. The report looks at the vulnerabilities of systems, and makes recommendations about building resilience. Mr. Lukas was also a lead author on the second report.

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education invited Mr. Lukas to address thsose subjects at their annual workshop and tour of the National Ice Core Lab.

By looking at the temperature record for Colorado and reconstructing the paleo-record it is easy to visually verify that there is a trend upward in average temperature.

While detailing the history and current state of the climate, another speaker, Nolan Doeskin, Colorado State Climatologist, said, “There is an observable and detectible warming in Colorado since 1900.”

In short, in Colorado all living things and water dependent processes will require more supply due to greenhouse gas forcing just as that same forcing is affecting the water supply in currently unquantifiable ways.

That is the driving force around Denver Water’s commitment to scenario planning, what Laurna Kaatz called, “Planning for multiple futures.” The possible “futures” identified include: Traditional future (stationarity); stricter water quality rules; hot water (warming of surface water); economic woes (long-term economic downturn); and green revolution (mass adoption of conservation, lowered energy use, etc.).

Caitlin Coleman from CFWE created a graphic of the scenario creation process for the current copy of Headwaters. You’ll need to score a copy of the print version for the full effect — it’s a foldout.

Of course, the main reason most people attend the workshop is to be able to boast about sharing space in the freezer with the ice cores.

Bruce Vaughn introduced the science and technology behind the collection of ice cores. He told us that, “Ice cores have shown us that climate change can occur very abruptly (in the time it takes to earn a bachelors degree).”

His lab at CU analyzes gases trapped in bubbles in the cores to discern the isotopic footprint of certain molecules in an effort to add to the scientific knowledge of the paleo-climate record.

While sharing time in the freezer with the cores we learned that the ability to work in the cold varies by individual and varies daily for the workers. Workers have to consume a big calorie load since staying warm consumes so many. Hydration is also a factor.

The day concluded with presentations targeted at educators and water providers who need to tell the climate change story to rate payers and students.

Katya Hafich, LearnMoreAboutClimate.org, introduced the snowpack field research program at CU before making us crunch field data without a spreadsheet. The data showed that, in the Green Lakes Valley (City of Boulder), the snowfall was deeper in 2014 than in 2013 but the snow water equivalent was higher in 2013. Just a little bit of data analysis to highlight the day.

Lesley Smith, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, emphasizes the need to teach folks about where their water comes from and how precious the resource is.

Noah Newman, Colorado Climate Center, was the last presenter. He made the pitch for joining CoCoRaHS to learn about climate and weather. CoCoRaHS was created by Nolan Doesken after the 1997 flood in Fort Collins pointed out the fact that the National Weather Service needed more data to gauge the severity of weather. The NWS is a daily user of CoCoRaHS data.

There was a lot more to hear and see of course. Click here to review my notes (tweets).

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