DENVER, COLORADO — The latest edition of “Climate Change in Colorado,” a report for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, unveils startling findings about the state’s climate trajectory.
The report, a collaborative effort between the Western Water Assessment program at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), paints a picture of a significantly warmer and drier future for Colorado, with profound implications for its people, environment, and economy.
Read more about the report’s key findings below.
Key Findings and Their Implications
Temperature Rise: Colorado has experienced a 2.3°F increase in average temperatures since 1980. The report projects that by 2050, typical years will match the warmest on record, with 2070 surpassing current temperature highs. This spike in temperatures is more than a comfort issue; it signifies heightened risks of heatwaves, impacting public health, agriculture, and natural ecosystems.
Precipitation Decline: The state has been grappling with drier conditions, especially since 2000. Notably, spring precipitation in Southwest Colorado has dropped by 22%. This trend spells trouble for agriculture, demanding adjustments in crop choices and irrigation practices. It also strains water resources, affecting everyone from city dwellers to remote communities.
Diminishing Snowpack: A decline in April snow-water equivalent by up to 23% is not just bad news for ski resorts; it’s a red flag for water supply. Snowpack acts as a natural reservoir, and its reduction means less water for agricultural irrigation, hydroelectric power, and municipal use.
Streamflow Reduction: Annual streamflows have decreased by up to 19% since 2000. With projections indicating further reductions, this signals a challenging future for Colorado’s river ecosystems, water-dependent industries, and recreational activities like fishing and rafting.
Soil Moisture and Wildfires: Drier soils in summer and the depletion of soil moisture contribute to warmer conditions, creating a feedback loop exacerbating drought and wildfire risks. Colorado has already seen a dramatic increase in wildfire frequency and intensity since 2000, a trend expected to continue.
Drought Severity: Warmer temperatures exacerbate drought severity, diminishing the benefits of wetter years. This raises concerns over water security, agricultural viability, and wildfire risks.
Navigating a Changing Climate
This third edition of the report builds on the foundations laid by its predecessors in 2008 and 2014, providing less detail but focusing more on climate extremes and hazards. While it doesn’t delve into local sensitivities and vulnerabilities, it offers a scientific basis for future studies and planning efforts, particularly in water resource management and adaptation strategies.
Coloradans, from policy makers to individual citizens, must now grapple with these findings and work towards sustainable solutions. This involves not only adapting to inevitable changes but also contributing to global efforts to mitigate further climate change.
The report’s findings are not just statistics; they represent a future that demands immediate and thoughtful action to preserve the Colorado way of life for generations to come. The choices made today will shape the Colorado of tomorrow, determining how well the state can navigate and thrive in an increasingly warmer and drier world.