Climate change is shrinking the West’s water supply — @HighCountryNews

The Colorado River and other crucial sources of water in the West are declining, thanks to climate change.
brewbooks/CC Flickr

Here’s a report from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Picture a snowflake drifting down from a frigid February sky in western Colorado and settling high in the Rocky Mountains. By mid-April, the alpine snowpack is likely at its peak. Warming temperatures in May or June will then melt the snow, sending droplets rushing down a mountain stream or seeping into the soil to replenish an aquifer.

The West’s water supply depends on each of these interconnected sources: the frozen reservoir of snow atop mountain peaks, mighty rivers like the Colorado and groundwater reserves deep below the earth’s surface. But the snowpack is becoming less reliable, one of the region’s most important rivers is diminishing and in many places the groundwater level has dropped. Three recent studies illuminate the magnitude of these declines, the role climate change has played and the outlook for the future.

All three studies point to the influence of a warming climate. “Climate change is real, it’s here now, it’s serious and it’s impacting our water supplies in a way that will affect all of us,” says Bradley Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University. The situation is dire, he says, but reining in greenhouse gas emissions now could help keep the mountains covered with snow and the rivers and aquifers wet.

Rifle “State of the River” recap

Rifle Falls back in the day via USGenWeb

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Alex Zorn):

The State of the River featured several presentations. Speakers included Scot Dodero, who discussed the Silt Water Conservancy District and its upcoming $3 million upgrade to its pump house, and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, who focused on big picture questions facing the Colorado River.

The Colorado River District started these meetings 24 years ago. Kuhn sees exports as a potential issue in the future, for every drop of water is used from the river.

“If California is in a drought and they can’t export more water from northern California, they will take more from the Colorado,” he explained.

He compared it to a rubber band being pulled on both sides; eventually it is going to snap.

Kuhn listed demand management and cloud seeding (or snowmaking) as potential solutions in contingency planning, but admitted it was a complex issue.

The evening’s final presentation looked at the Grand Valley water banking experiment, which will test how conserving consumptive water use by agricultural fallowing will send more water to Lake Powell to help bolster low reservoir levels.

“Water banking is the practice of intentionally foregoing diversion or consumptive use of a water resource and banking the conversed volume for use at a future date or different purpose,” said Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

In 2017, 10 farm operators across the valley, each committing a minimum of 60 acres, will participate in the pilot program to reduce water consumption. The program will ensure that agricultural water users would have a seat at the table if and when water rights becomes more of an issue. In turn, they won’t be expected to shoulder the burden in drought conditions.

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