September 24, 2009

Dramatic climate change amid public doubts makes management tough

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 InvestigateWest takes note of two recent reports from the global warming frontlines in the West. At a forum this week in Aspen, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District said a lack of informed consensus about global climate change make it difficult to manage future water research, according to a report in the Colorado Independent. In other words, despite no lack of evidence that the West is facing dramatic water shortages due to global climate change, the management piece isn’t happening, mainly because of public doubts. Solid evidence by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other reports show that a shrinking snow pack and earlier spring runoff mean far less water in the Colorado River, yet half of Colorado residents doubt the facts.

In other states, it’s even worse, said Dr. Eric Kuhn, pointing to a study done by the Rocky Mountain Climate Change Organization.

In Wyoming, the survey found only 35 percent of people think climate change is a reality, while 62 percent of Californians think so, and 74 percent of Democrats surveyed in a seven-state area think it’s a reality, compared to just 25 percent of Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker writes of gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts dealing with the impacts of climate change. Gardeners talk about temperatures warming to the point where hardy bananas could actually be grown in Idaho’s “banana belt,” and hunters, fishers, campers, boaters and hikers coping with forest fires that have increased 400 percent since 1980. The warmer winters mean less snow for skiers. Ski resorts open later, and rely more on snow-making equipment, even in fabled Sun Valley.

 New studies by Daniel Issak of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station show that in seven of 10 years since 1993, Boise River tributary stream temperatures have risen above 68 degrees, the threshold that stresses trout and salmon.

Before 1990, research shows, the Boise River’s temperatures reached the 68-degree mark only once every 10 years. In those seven of 10 years since 1993, fish have had to live in this warm water for up to nine days a year. That will continue to rise and perhaps accelerate, Issak said.

On the plus side, wheat yields have increased, and wine growing has improved. But at what cost, and for how long?

— Rita Hibbard

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