Climate change already playing out in West, report says

Change 'more dramatic' in winter than previously thought, ecologist says

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 6:10 p.m. MST

By 2050, climate change will triple the fraction of counties in the United States that are at high or extremely high risk of outstripping their water supplies, from 10 percent to 32 percent, the report notes, adding that the most at-risk areas in the United States are the West, Southwest and Great Plains regions.

Stein said water managers, particularly those in the Colorado River basin that includes Utah, are already responding to the threat of such shortages.

"'Water managers are planning their operations with climate in context, taking into account what is known as the 'new normal,'" he said. "Much of our water management was developed at a time when there was good supply of precipitation. Over the last 10 to 15 years, we can see that has changed. Along the Colorado, they are beginning to recalibrate their assumptions and accordingly recalibrate how they are managing the river and their allocations."

The study points to strides and real progress on the ground that demonstrates that government can be responsive and smart in the threat of climate change, and the public-private partnerships out there to curtail its range of potential consequences.

An example is a tree-thinning program instituted in Arizona, which experienced its largest wildfire on record in 2011. Still, the fire did not burn ridges where the thinning had happened. Such strategy invoked in advance of catastrophic wildfires can help reduce other threats, such as flash flooding that can imperil drinking water supplies, the report notes.

"The nexus of climate and forest fires is a flashpoint for several other degraded ecosystems such as water supply and water quality," the report said.

The report said that the federal government is beginning to take action by managing programs with climate change as a component.

Several states, too, have formal climate change adaptation programs on the books, and even those that don't are approaching the management of fish and wildlife with strategies that incorporate conservation in a broad sense, including habitat restoration and landscape connectivity.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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