Impact of Climate Change on Western US Water Resources

A report has been delivered to the United States Congress which assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control, and fish and wildlife in the western United States.

The report was delivered by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and was prepared by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. It represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins.

“Water is the lifeblood of our communities, rural and urban economies, and our environment,” said Secretary Salazar, “and small changes in water supplies or the timing of precipitation can have a big impact on all of us. This report provides the foundation for understanding the long-term impacts of climate change on Western water supplies and will help us identify and implement appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies for sustainable water resource management.”

The report highlights several increased risks to western American water resources during the following decades, including;

  • a temperature increase of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • a precipitation increase over the northwestern and north-central portions of the western United States and a decrease over the southwestern and south-central areas;
  • a decrease for almost all of the April 1st snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin runoff; and
  • an 8 to 20 percent decrease in average annual stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the San Joaquin

The report notes that such projected changes to temperature and precipitation, if true, are likely to have great impact on the timing and quantity of stream flows in all the western basins, which subsequently could impact water availability for farms and cities, hydropower generation, fish and wildlife, among many uses.

“Impacts to water are on the leading edge of global climate change, and these changes pose a significant challenge and risk to adequate water supplies, which are critical for the health, economy, and ecology of the United States,” added Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor.

One of the programs that Reclamation is focusing on is the WaterSMART program, which aims to implement conservation and recycling measures and promote the efficient use of finite water resources.

“The WaterSMART program provides a strong foundation for the Department’s efforts to improve water conservation and help water-resource managers make sound decisions about water use,” said Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, Anne Castle. “As climate change adds to the challenges we face in managing our water supply, meaningful engagement between the River Basin states and the Department of the Interior will continue to be essential.”

Source: US Department of the Interior
Image Source: laszlo-photo

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