Three Top Threats of Climate Change in the West — @wradv #ActOnClimate

Transmountain diversion, the Lost Man Canal, in the Roaring Fork River watershed

From Western Resource Advocated (Erin Overturf):

But climate change is impacting those of us who live in the West. It may not come in the form of “super storms,” but it can be just as devastating. These are three of the most prominent threats of climate change in the West:

Threat #1: Water Supply

Perhaps the most profound and immediate threat from climate change in the West is to our water supply. Our rivers help to sustain our iconic wildlife, feed our communities, power our economies, and offer an escape to play.

Most of our precipitation falls as snow in the mountains, which acts like a water bank for downstream communities. Climate change has shortened the winter – when we stock up on snow – leaving our water supplies uncertain. In turn, our landscape is getting drier, leaving it more vulnerable to severe drought and bigger, more dangerous wildfires. And the effects compound each other: a drier landscape means more dust, and dust causes snowpack to melt and evaporate faster from our mountains, leaving less water flowing into downstream rivers and reservoirs.

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

Threat #2: Wildfires

Our mountains and canyons across the West are known for their gorgeous expanses of forests and grasses. Our prairies offer sustaining agriculture and the poetry of endless blue skies. Historically, natural wildfires have refreshed soil nutrients and maintained the forest ecosystem.

But climate change has changed that natural fire dynamic on Western lands. Since 1970, the annual wildfire season has lengthened by 78 days. Since 1984, the area that burns annually has doubled. The Forest Service estimates that area may double again by 2050. Our forests and grasslands are drier and more susceptible to disease and pests, such as the mountain pine beetle. When they do burn, they burn hotter and longer, endangering ecosystems, wildlife, and homes.

Severe smog and air pollution in Beijing

Threat #3: Our Public Health

We sometimes forget the effect that climate change has on our own health. Higher temperatures can cause air pollution, such as from ozone and dust. People who suffer from asthma, like my son and me, are particularly vulnerable when air quality is low. Smoke from wildfires can make it impossible to venture outside without wheezing. Increased ozone and poor air quality disproportionately impact those who suffer from heart disease, the elderly, the young, and low-income communities. And they make it harder to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the West.

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