West's water woes could get worse, global warming alarmists say

The Olympian


LOS ANGELES -- Global warming will have a devastating effect on the availability of water in the western United States, according to a new study which, despite its dismal outlook, was billed as the rosiest of a series of climate forecasts.
Even as a best-case scenario, it forecasts supplies falling far short of future demands for water by cities, farms and wildlife.

"You'd like there to be some good news in there somewhere, but unfortunately there is not," said Tim Barnett, a research marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Overall precipitation levels are likely to remain constant, but warmer temperatures mean what would have fallen as snow will instead come down as rain.

The new study involved more than two dozen scientists and engineers, from institutions including Scripps, the University of Washington, the Energy Department and the U.S. Geological Survey, who undertook it as a test of a national climate forecasting effort. The results are expected to appear in a future issue of the journal Climatic Change.

During the next 25 to 50 years on the Columbia River system, the study forecasts, there will be water in the summer and fall to generate electricity, or in the spring and summer for salmon runs -- but not both.

"The problem is you basically can't resolve that trade-off," said Dennis Lettenmaier, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Other scenarios that gauge the impact of even moderate global-scale warming on the West suggest the effects could be two to three times worse -- or of the same magnitude but occurring sooner -- than the newer estimates, Barnett said.

The continued growth in the population of the West will exacerbate the problem. Indeed, that alone makes for a crisis, said Bill Patzert, a NASA research oceanographer who was not connected with the new research.

"The problem in the West is not climate change, it's too many ... people using too much water," Patzert said. "If nothing happens, we're in trouble. If something happens, it's worse."


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