The Southwest faces water challenges and choices in dealing with #ClimateChange

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

“I’m openly skeptical we’ll ever be able to fill Elephant Butte Reservoir again,” Dr. David Gutzler told attendees of a recent climate change conference. That’s given the trend toward diminished flows in the Rio Grande resulting from the continued global rise in temperature.

The University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Studies Department professor delivered the grim news on a crisp, yellow and blue fall morning along the bosque in Albuquerque.

Since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed the reservoir in 1916 to supply farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas with water, the reservoir’s levels have fluctuated—from highs in the 1940s to lows in the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s. Many New Mexicans are familiar with the wet period that lasted from 1984 through 1993; between 1980 and 2006, the state’s population increased by 50 percent. But then the region was hit with drier conditions—and increasing temperatures. Areas of the Southwest have suffered from drought since 1999 and, unlike earlier droughts, it’s driven not just by a lack of precipitation, but a rise in temperature.

Even with good snowpack in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico the past few years, there simply isn’t enough water to boost the reservoir’s levels again, said Gutzler, who is also one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 Assessment Report. The reservoir is currently at just 15 percent capacity…

Warming in the American Southwest is occurring at about double the global rate—and that local warming will have a profound impact on water resources in the Interior West. Those changes in water supply will occur regardless of changes in precipitation, he said.

Gutzler added, “There is nothing the slightest bit hypothetical about this warming.”

On Friday, the U.S. government released its Climate Change Special Report and the fourth volume of the National Climate Assessment, an update of the last report released in 2014. It’s the culmination of work by 13 federal agencies mandated by Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts every four years.

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