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February 22, 2007

Warming to hurt Colorado River, report says

By Bettina Boxall, the Los Angeles Times

“Global warming will worsen drought and reduce flows on the Colorado River, a key water source for several Western states, according to a report released Wednesday.

The study, prepared by a National Research Council committee, paints a sobering picture as the water needs of a rapidly expanding population test the limits of a river system strained by the effects of climate change.

“The basin is going to face increasingly costly, controversial and unavoidable trade-off choices,” said Ernest Smerdon, chairman of the panel of academicians and scientists who wrote the report. “Increasing demands are impeding the region’s ability to cope with droughts and water shortages.”

Such measures as conservation, desalination and water recycling would be helpful, the authors said, but wouldn’t offer a panacea.

The report examined climate modeling and tree ring data. Scientists concluded that the Colorado river system, which supplies water to 24 million people and several million acres of crop and ranch land, has been drier and more prone to severe drought than was the case in the early 20th century, when the river’s flows were divvied among the seven basin states.

It turns out that period was unusually wet, prompting an overly generous estimate of how much water would be available to farms and cities. Ancient tree rings, which provide graphic evidence of past precipitation patterns, indicate it had been three centuries since the basin was last awash with that much water.

The most recent drought began in 2000 and has left the river’s biggest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, roughly half empty.

Global warming will only make matters worse, said Connie Woodhouse, a University of Arizona associate professor of geography who helped write the report. “It’s going to enhance the droughts” that are part of the natural climate cycle.

The study, which was sponsored by the National Academics, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and several water agencies, notes that temperatures have risen in the Western United States over the past century and are expected to keep climbing.”

This article by the Los Angeles Times was printed in the Spokesman Review on February 22, 2007.

There is sure to be some “water war” events in our future. Does anyone remember the droughts in the San Diego, California and Seattle, Washington areas a few years back? You had to ask for water at a restaurant; you couldn’t water your lawn; there was some regulation of flushing toilets and showering. A billboard on Interstate 8 said “Can my husband take a shower yet?” A lawn-painting business began in Seattle to paint the dead lawns green (because you weren’t allowed to water your lawn and the lawns died). People weren’t allowed to wash their own cars. When droughts are the norm, it will not seem so funny.

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