Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap: Colorado Climate Plan review

Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment
Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado’s Water Plan was crafted with hundreds of meetings and thousands of comments on a grand public scale with the type of unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for a Broncos game.
Well, OK. Maybe a Rockies game.

By contrast, the Colorado Climate Plan was like an after-school pickup game for scientists, attempting to lay some sort of public policy groundwork for a series of unpredictable events. Even so, water is still the star.

“Water is one of the most vulnerable sectors,” Taryn Finnessey, of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week. “Streamflow decreases and the peak runoff shifts. The frostfree season is longer and there are more frequent wildfires. We are seeing these things already.”

She presented the evidence of warming: Colorado’s average temperature has increased 2 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the last 30 years; 2.5 degrees in the last 50. The average temperature will increase 2.5-5 degrees by 2050. A 2-degree increase would make Denver more like Pueblo; 4 degrees more like Lamar; and 6 degrees more like Albuquerque.

“After 2050, we can’t predict,” she said.

Future precipitation is uncertain. Colorado is an inland area, with mountains and at mid-latitude — the trifecta for uncertainty. Less snow? More rain? No one can tell. But both extreme floods and droughts already are becoming more common.

The historic record — you don’t need to consider man-made consequences to review it — can be determined by tree-ring data. It goes back 1,000 years in the Colorado River basin, and 500-700 years in the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins.

There have been, in every basin, decades-long droughts that occasionally have chased away civilizations.

Armed with the facts, the roundtable members were asked, by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, if they believed climate change was real and posed a threat. About 75 percent of the people in the room raised their hands.

“So, we’ve still got some work to do,” Winner said.

That’s true statewide as well. Only 19 percent of the state’s population does not believe global warming is happening, according to recent polls.

Just 60 percent say it is a threat to the state.

Beyond water, there are other sectors of the state that are preparing for climate change.

The Colorado Climate Plan, directed by the state Legislature in 2013, deals with public health, energy, agriculture, tourism and recreation as areas that could be affected in one way or another by markedly warmer or drier weather. And one surprising area: Transportation.

The plan outlines how wear and tear on roads, runways and other transportation structures is expected to increase as temperatures warm and storm events become more severe. Colorado witnessed this already in the 2013 floods in the South Platte basin, where road replacement became the major cost after the floodwaters receded.

Those types of impacts are expected to become more common.

There are also the on-the-ground impacts of more severe snowstorms, rain events and dust.

For instance, during the 2010-13 drought in the Arkansas Valley, the National Weather Service added dust storms to their roster of weather warnings. While Colorado’s Water Plan sets specific targets or goals to manage water use, the Colorado Climate Plan deals in broader “policies and strategies to mitigate and adapt.”

The report acknowledges that Colorado, by itself, could do little to curb global effects of emissions from power plants or automobiles, but should help cut those emissions.

Sort of like a fan in the stands cheering for the home team?

But the plan does point the way for Colorado to get in the ballpark.

coloradoclimateplancover092015

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