By Luke Runyon | KUNC/Cronkite News
A warming climate already is reducing stream flows in the Southwest’s largest watershed, according to a new study from scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey. And as the planet continues to heat up, it said, the shortages are likely to get worse.
Using hydrologic models, researchers found that the Colorado River Basin is extremely sensitive to slight variations in temperature. In their new paper in the journal Science, they show that for each degree average Celsius temperatures rise, flows in the Colorado are likely to decline more than 9%.
That decline is likely to cause severe water shortages in the basin, where more water exists on paper in the form of water rights than in the river itself. Higher temperatures reduce snowfall and diminish snowpack, lessening the amount of water available.