State panel wades into climate change |

State panel wades into climate change

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GOLDEN, Colo. ” Colorado’s water managers need to assess the vulnerability of their supplies stressed by potential global warming impacts and adopt a “no-regret” policy, a blue ribbon climate change panel recommended last week.

Meeting in Golden to unveil its initial suggestions on reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Colorado Climate Project explained that climate change is expected to cause reduced snowpack and streamflows, more drought, earlier snowmelt, increased water needs and degraded water quality.

Along with impacts to water supplies, climate change could also drastically affect the state’s tourism sector, a draft report from the panel suggests.

Acting soon to reduce Colorado’s contribution to climate change is critical, said Rocky Mountain Climate Organization president Stephen Saunders. The ambitious plan being developed by the climate project would bring the state into the front ranks of the fight against climate change. Perhaps only California has adopted a more aggressive stance, Saunders said.

At least week’s meeting in the American Mountaineering Center, the panel considered 70 draft recommendations. After a final Sept. 12 meeting, the group will issue a report that should serve as a blueprint for Colorado.

Saunders said the section addressing the vulnerability of Colorado’s water supply is a key section of the report.

With precipitation events forecast to become more intense, it could become difficult to capture and store water for long-term use, and increase the risk of flooding.

Decreased stream flow volumes will also result in impacts to water quality, with less water available for dilution. And if warmer temperatures result in more wildfires – as expected – problems with erosion and runoff will also increase, according to the panel’s preliminary report.

These changes are not 10 or 20 years down the road, but have already been observed and documented in some parts of the West. In Colorado, for example, U.S. Geological Survey studies have tracked how the peak runoff date has advanced by several weeks in the past few decades.

The panel’s report explains that water managers can’t make assumptions on future supplies based on historic data. Climate change will increasingly make those figures unreliable.

Water planners should place more emphasis on conservation, and there should be more regional cooperation among water providers as supplies tighten, the panel suggests.

The report also makes specific recommendations in the areas of agriculture and energy use, calling on state government to evaluate cooling technologies on all new electric generating facilities. Solar- and wind-generating facilities don’t require water; however limitations with regard to base-load generation must be recognized.

Another section in the report specifically addresses tourism and recreation, outlining some of the potential impacts to skiing, water-based recreation, and even hunting, hiking and biking. Longer droughts and increased fire danger could lead to closures of some areas, according to the report.

Natural resource management agencies should take a lead role in setting an example for the public when it comes to tackling climate change, and in educating the public, the report suggests.

For more information on the panel and its report, go to: