From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
Be prepared for some of the West’s biggest and most important rivers and streams to see record low flows this spring and summer.
That’s the message of the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s latest water supply forecast released Monday.
“Below average precipitation continued to be the norm and not the exception for the month of January,” the forecast report reads. “January marks the fourth consecutive month of the 2018 water year with widespread below average precipitation.”
The center’s forecasters are projecting the flows into Lake Powell — one of the largest human-made lakes in the country — to be 47 percent of average. The lake, on the Utah-Arizona border, is part of a reservoir system that supplies water to some 40 million people in the southwest. As of early February Lake Powell was at 56 percent of full capacity, while its sister reservoir, Lake Mead, was at 41 percent of full capacity.
The news is worse in the Colorado River’s lower basin, which includes Arizona, and portions of New Mexico and Nevada. In those states, spring runoff from February to May is projected to be be less than 30 percent of median.
The lowest water supply forecasts in the Upper Colorado River include the Dolores and San Juan Rivers in southwest Colorado, and across central and southern Utah including the Virgin, Sevier, and San Rafael River Basins.
Parts of the southern Rocky Mountains are currently experiencing the warmest and driest winter on record. Snowpack eventually turns into the region’s water supply, and without it, rivers and streams suffer. Snow measurement sites in southern Colorado, central Utah, and Arizona are reporting their lowest levels on record…
Last year’s above-average snowfall in the southern Rockies boosted reservoir levels throughout the region giving water managers some buffer to withstand a dry year, with both Arizona and New Mexico being the exception. Those two states are currently reporting below average reservoir storage.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan editorial board:
The unusually dry winter has people in Colorado and across the West talking about the vagaries of the weather. But the more important conversation is about climate change.
Reporter Jacy Marmaduke wrote an interesting story that ran in the Jan. 28 print version of the Coloradoan — and, of course, on Coloradoan.com — about how climate change is affecting the state’s ski industry and how that impact is predicted to worsen in the decades to come.
There was a lot of bad news for fans of winter outdoor activities such as hitting the slopes at resorts in Summit County or snowshoeing in the upper reaches of the Poudre Canyon. Although snowfall amounts vary from year to year, the overall trend for the snowpack is less accumulation and earlier melting than in years past.
Snowpack has decreased 20 to 60 percent at most monitoring sites in Colorado since the 1950s, according to an Environmental Protection Agency analysis. Colorado’s average temperature has increased more than 2 degrees in the past 40 years.
Those trends are expected to continue. For ski resorts, decreasing snow translates to shorter ski seasons. The economic impact of that on resorts and the state’s vital tourist industry is profound.
However, there’s more for Coloradans to worry about than the financial well-being of ski resorts and the number of powder days skiers may enjoy. Our mountains hold the headwaters of major rivers, including the Colorado River, that supply water to a large part of the country.
Decreased snowpack and earlier runoff because of the shifting climate will require significant changes to how water is managed and conserved in river basins across the West. Other impacts include serious threats to agricultural production as well as healthy forests and rivers.
So what can individuals and society do about this? We can’t make more snow fall or otherwise change the weather, but we can take steps to lessen our contribution to forces science tells us are factors in climate change.
Local entities such as the city of Fort Collins, Colorado State University and Platte River Power Authority are leading the way in climate action through programs and policies aimed at reducing the community’s emission of greenhouse gases.
The city’s Climate Action Plan is one of the most aggressive municipal plans in the country, if not the world. The plan calls for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, with the goal of the community being carbon neutral by 2050.
These conservation goals will not be easily achieved. Getting there will require the cooperative efforts of individuals and large organizations alike.
A good source of information on Fort Collins’ work on climate action may be found on the city website fcgov.com/climateaction. The site includes access to a Climate Action Plan dashboard, which gives a snapshot view of the community’s progress on meeting its goals.
The dashboard is a work in progress, with some informational entry points labeled “coming soon.” But it provides access to reports on the city’s activities, including an Innovation Summit planned Feb. 12 to brainstorm ways to achieve Climate Action Plan goals.
Some might say that given the worldwide scope of climate change and the tremendous challenges it presents, efforts by one community in Northern Colorado to address it are not likely to make any difference.
A less cynical way of looking at climate action is that steps taken at the local level could provide important momentum toward finding answers to a big problem.
And we are not alone. Communities and countries around the world are taking action in the face of climate change in hopes of ensuring a livable world for future generations.