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article imageWestern US water availability projections look bleak

By Lynn Herrmann     Apr 27, 2011 in Environment
Washington - Projections for water resources in the western US during the 21st century show major changes on the way, as increased temperatures and decreased snowpack, precipitation and stream flow will lead to risks of water availability for humans dependent on it.
A new report released by the Department of the Interior that assesses the risks associated with climate change and how those risks will likely impact the western US water supply, including hydropower, flood control, water operations and fish and wildlife. Prepared by the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the report details risks to water supplies of eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri rivers.
“Water is the lifeblood of our communities, rural and urban economies, and our environment,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a government news release. “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, Reclamation, Managing Water in the West (pdf), a response to requirements under the SECURE Water Act of 2009, outlines several increased risks likely to impact life in the western US and focuses on the Colorado, Columbia, Klamath, Missouri, Upper Rio Grande, Sacramento-San Joaquin and Truckee-Carson river basins.. Among the report’s projected changes are
• a 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase
• a decrease in precipitation over the southwestern and south-central parts of the western US and a precipitation increase over the northwestern and north-central parts.
• a decrease for the majority of April 1st snowpack, the benchmark measurement used for projecting river basin runoff
• a decrease of 8-20 percent in annual stream flow in several large river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande, and San Joaquin rivers.
A declining water supply in the western US has already begun, with that part of the country continuing to see added pressures resulting from increased populations.
Those projected changes in temperatures and precipitation will likely impact timing and volume of stream flow in all western basins, leading to major impacts for downstream dependents, including farms and cities, hydropower generation facilities, fish and wildlife, and recreation.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Conner said: “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,” according to the release.
The largest wholesaler of water in the US, Reclamation provides water to over 31 million people and to 20 percent of all farmers in the western US for the irrigation of more than 10 million acres of land. The Bureau of Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western US, providing electricity to 3.5 million homes.
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