Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More scary talk about global warming, water, Wyoming and the West

Batches of thoughtful people in the West are tackling the issue of climate change (see previous post). In Wyoming, the UW Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) just issued a 28-page report, "Assessing the Future of Wyoming's Water Resources: Adding Climate Change to the Equation."

First of all, the title says "Climate Change." That's pretty good for our very conservative state. Climatechangeclimatechangeclimatechange.

The report itself mentions "global warming," even saying that man has played a role in it. The report stops short of labeling the situation as man-made global warming or, as befitting the Equality State, human-caused global warming.

It's an easy read, chock full of facts, charts, graphs, pretty color photos and scary text. Here's an example of the latter:

"This report covers what we know and what we wish we knew about Wyoming and the West's changing climate and the various impacts on water resources," says Wyoming State Climatologist Steve Gray, the lead author and director of the Water Resources Data System at UW. "What we do know is that Wyoming's water resources are highly sensitive to climate change. This is because Wyoming is a relatively dry state, a headwaters state, and because we are so reliant on mountain snow, the main source of surface water for the entire year."

Gray explains that downstream states are somewhat buffered from the types of drought seen in the historical record: Dryness in one area can often be offset by wet conditions in another. In many cases, through compacts and decrees, water is stored upstream for these states.

Will there come a time when we throw these moldy old 19th-century water pacts out the window and just decide to keep our snowmelt? In the West, that would be tantamount to a declaration of war. I can see the headline now:

Wyomingites dam North Platte; Cornhuskers steamed

CHEYENNE -- Activists from Protect Our Wyoming Water (POWW) finished damming the North Platte on Tuesday where the river crosses into Nebraska southeast of Torrington.

"We threw all the Democrats we could find into the narrows," said POWW leader Bob Huntley. "Some water was still getting through, so we had to round up some Independents and even a few Libertarians. We got 'er done."

Speaking at a press conference in Lincoln, Nebraska Governor Jim Johnson fired a warning shot over Wyoming's bow. He actually fired a warning shot from his deer
rifle. It fell a few hundred miles short of the border.

He went on: "This will not stand. Tear down this dam, Mr. Huntley. Tear it down. And don't forget to administer CPR to the Libertarians."

Then all hell breaks loose. Imagine the chaos. The big question is: would Cheyenne use its nukes?

Perhaps it will never come to this.

But it looks grim.

The UW report concludes that "there is mounting evidence that the Earth is experiencing a warming trend," and, as a result, "any increase in temperature will increase the impact of drought just as population growth and other factors have greatly increased the West's vulnerability to water shortages."

Graphs and figures in the report illustrate datasets on past climates, including tree-ring studies in which scientists look at the widths of annual growth rings in trees to reconstruct a detailed history of ancient droughts. Based on these and other data, scientists can then create scenarios that enable them to examine how future climate change might influence water resources.

"If the dry periods of the 1700s were to return, there would be substantial consequences, and this makes climate change of any type a key factor to consider
as we plan for the future of Wyoming's water resources," Gray says.

"When it comes to our western water resources, there is no slack in the system," says Gray. "Managing for the combined effects of drought and warmer temperatures will be a key challenge in the future."

We're screwed. More severe drought, less snow, shrinking mountain glaciers, hordes of hungry pine beetles, and the traditional Republican-controlled legislature and the all-Republican Congressional delegation.

We're really screwed.

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