Warming temps threaten water supplies and ecosystems
COLORADO SPRINGS – Climate change holds the threat of warmer temperatures and less reliable water supplies for the Rocky Mountains and inter-mountain West, according to a panel of experts presenting recent climate research at the State of the Rockies conference at Colorado College this week.Such projections aren’t new. Several of the predictive climate models cited at the conference have been around for several years, but some of the findings presented show a shockingly rapid decrease in snowpacks, with the biggest drops expected in the southern end of the Rocky Mountain region.By 2085, the April 1 snowpack in Summit County could be just half of what it was in 1976, according to research compiled by Colorado College students. The effects of global warming could be even more marked in the mountains just outside Salt Lake City, where the April 1 snowpack could be reduced by 84 percent. Telluride could see snowpack reduced by 84 percent, while that figure could even reach 89 percent in northern New Mexico.Only time will tell how accurate these predictions are. But should they hold true, the economic impacts are undeniable. Shorter ski seasons could make the snowsport-based winter economy of many mountain resort communities unviable, according to the State of the Rockies report card.Some of those economic impacts could be offset by an increase in summer recreation, the research indicates, suggesting that a warming climate could make tourists more willing to pay for a summer recreation experience in the relatively cool mountains, allowing for further investment in summer recreational facilities.The State of the Rockies report also addresses some of the other implications of global warming head-on, suggesting, for example, that the ski industry may not be willing to admit impending problems because it could “make their customers reluctant to buy ski resort real estate or even to teach their children to ski.”But that seems unlikely, given the fact that the National Ski Areas Association has launched an extensive climate change awareness campaign, called Keep Winter Cool, targeted directly at its own customers. At the same time, resorts have made significant investments in renewable energy as a way to directly reduce its own global warming footprint.And that trend fits right in with the report’s ultimate conclusion: “In order for the Rockies to successfully adapt to an outcome of an altered climate, policy makers and residents alike must recognize the probable consequences now and plan for altered climates and resulting altered lifestyles. The national, regional and local conversations must no longer be centered upon whether climate is changing, but rather what we might do to slow and managed the change.”
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