Downstream From a Dry Western Winter — Western Resource Advocates

Sprague Lake via Rocky Mountain National Park.

From Western Resource Advocates (Jon Goldin-Dubois):

If you watched the skies this past winter, you know that in much of the West it was a dry one. With few exceptions, precipitation across the region was far below normal over the past season. In parts of southern Colorado and New Mexico, snowfall this winter was half of what we’ve come to expect – and rely on – over the last four decades. Snowpack is well below average in most of the West, and this shortfall is causing serious concern for our spring and summer water supplies, the river activities we all enjoy, and the risk of wildfire in our alpine forests.

Admittedly, it could have been worse. A few late-season storms in February, March, and April have gone a long way to boost our snowpack. If this long, dry winter has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t live storm to storm, and month to month, hoping for the best. The effects of climate change in the region have made the storms we rely on more erratic and less predictable. It’s also causing the dry spells between storms and rainy, snowy seasons to be longer, deeper, and more devastating.

This means that stream flows in many rivers across the West are going to be slim this year, sometimes disastrously so. In some places, flows could be as much as 40 percent below normal as we head into spring and summer. This spells trouble for farmers and ranchers, and for the thousands of anglers, rafters, kayakers, and other outdoorists who spend millions of dollars in our region. If a rising tide lifts all boats, falling stream flows may leave too many of those boats stranded.

But this dry winter is an unmistakable message that the impacts of a changing climate are playing out right now in the West – and are likely to get worse in the coming years. The skiers among us saw it this winter when the snows didn’t fall consistently, and the rest of us will feel it when there’s little snow to melt this spring. We’re seeing it first-hand, and we know that a changing climate is transforming the West.

We can and should tighten our belts to conserve water wherever we can, and we can get smarter about long-term efficiency and reuse strategies to get us through dry summers. But we can also work to solve the climate problem at its core by focusing on aggressively reducing carbon emissions in the energy sector – the largest contributor to the increasing impacts of climate change. Our window is closing rapidly, but it is still open, providing an opportunity for urgent action from all of us to restore a healthy climate.

By working with utility companies and energy users across the West and leveraging the cost parity between renewables and traditional fossil fuel energy, we can create a business environment where investing in clean energy and cutting carbon pollution are good for utility bottom lines, save customers money and protect the planet. Grid-by-grid, we can transform the West into a clean energy leader to address climate change and its impact on our snowpack, our rivers, and our communities. Your support is what makes this work possible.

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