Arkansas River Basin Water Forum recap #ActOnClimate

Statewide temperature 1895 through 2018 via the Colorado Climate Center.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper) via The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The message came in three different voices: Climate change and global warming are here, and they will shrink Colorado’s rivers and water supply.

“We are causing this and we can fix it,” said Brad Udall, a senior research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute and Colorado State University.

He was speaking to several hundred officials from regional water districts who were in Pueblo Wednesday for the 25th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.

Udall’s message was also underlined by Nolan Doesken, former state climatologist, and Taryn Finnessey, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We thought we’d outgrown dust storms,” Doesken said, showing a slide of a dust-filled sky over Southern Colorado a few summers ago. “But, lo and behold, we find that if you string together multiple years of drought. …”

Finnessey, who oversees the state’s drought response plan for the Department of Natural Resources, said the long-term forecast shows a future where the Arkansas River wouldn’t be able to meet the demand to use it.

The three water experts were looking at the impact of climate change on Colorado’s rivers. They gave different perspectives of a trend showing that temperatures are warming — and that would affect how much water is available in the future.

Udall showed temperature models that indicate the average daytime temperature could be 6 degrees hotter by the next century. That trend is already displaying itself in hot, dry summers and longer fire seasons, he said.

“Look at the Paradise Fire in California,” he said. “It burned 20,000 structures. California now has a fire season that is year-round.”

Doesken showed temperature records for Southern Colorado that evidence a slow, creeping trend line upward since the 1890s. And there were many wild swings from wet years to dry years, hot years to colder years. But stretched over time, the average crept upward.

“We are warming — but Southern Colorado seems to be warming a little more slowly,” he said.

Udall said warmer temperatures are likely to reduce flow in the state’s rivers as much as 20 percent by 2050.

“Water conservation has to be part of every discussion as we go forward,” he said.

Doesken said the state couldn’t begin to cope with its drought struggle without the large man-made lakes, dams and other storage projects. More are probably needed, he said.

“The question to me is: Do we have the courage to go forward?” he said.

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