Wet winter doesn't end climate change risk to Colorado River

phys.org | 8/15/2019 | Staff
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Snow swamped mountains across the U.S. West last winter, leaving enough to thrill skiers into the summer, swelling rivers and streams when it melted, and largely making wildfire restrictions unnecessary. But the wet weather can be misleading.

Climate change means the region is still getting drier and hotter.

Swings - James - Eklund - Director - Upper

"It only demonstrates the wide swings we have to manage going forward," James Eklund, former director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency that ensures river water is doled out properly, said earlier this year. "You can put an ice cube—even an excellent ice cube—in a cup of hot coffee, but eventually it's going to disappear."

For the seven states relying on the Colorado River, which carries melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with increasingly less water for farms and cities.

Scientists - River - People - Arizona - California

Climate scientists say it's hard to predict how much less. The river supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5-billion-a-year agricultural industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday will release its projections for next year's supply from Lake Mead, a key reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

Winter - Agency - States - Cuts - Share

After a wet winter, the agency is not expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of water.

But that doesn't mean conditions are improving long term. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico could give up some water voluntarily in 2020 under a drought contingency plan approved by the seven states earlier this year.

Look - Colorado - River - Climate - Change

Here is a look at the Colorado River amid climate change:

Much of the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries originates as snow.

Temperatures - Demand - Grows - Water - Supply

As temperatures rise and demand grows, the water supply declines. Even if more snow and rain fell, it wouldn't necessarily all end up in the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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