A report published this week by Western Resource Advocates and the Environmental Defense Fund details the possible effects of climate change on Western water supplies and profiles smart water-use projects.
“Of all the implications of a hotter climate, the water implications are the most dramatic or long-term,” Bart Miller, the director of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocate’s water program told Julie Sutor of The Aspen Times.
The report, which intends to capture a sense of environmental urgency, was released on Monday to coincide with the Senate’s return to Washington to begin discussions on energy and climate change, according to the report’s co-author, Stacy Tellinghuisen of Western Resource Advocates.
“Meeting the water demands of the region’s vibrant cities, burgeoning recreational industry, and agricultural sector—the bedrock of our rural communities—is already a challenge,” begins the report, Protecting the Lifeline of the West: How Climate and Clean Energy Policies Can Safeguard Water. “But scientists project that climate change will make the West both hotter and drier, with longer and more intense droughts—exacerbating today’s challenges.”
The report focuses on probable impacts regarding runoff, annual precipitation, aquatic habitat, reservoir storage and seasonal recreation. The report also highlights the effects of a hotter, drier West to lucrative recreation pursuits like fishing, rafting, kayaking and skiing.
It also emphasizes the need for thoughtful natural resource development from methane to coil to oil shale. According to the report’s authors, wind and photovoltaic solar systems use comparatively little water in comparison to more traditional methods of energy production like coal and oil. By replacing a 5-megawatt coal plant with wind turbines, the report argues, the West could stand to save 1.9 billion gallons in water withdrawals and 1.6 billion in water consumption.
Projections for future water use in oil and gas are similarly dire, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy projection. By the year 2030, gas production in the 10 Rocky Mountain States will reach 450 gallons per day, while oil will reach 250 million. To put this in perspective, an MSU Bozeman study estimates that natural gas currently uses roughly 18,000 gallons of water per well per day.
The Department of Energy estimates that oil extraction currently pulls out anywhere from 105 to 350 gallons of water per day.
Combine those figures with projections of an increased population of 9 million in the seven interior states by 2030. That rising population and their dwindling water supply, this study confirms, will likely lead to an increasingly insecure future of water in the West—a story those who live there have been hearing for some time.
The real question is how to deal with this shortage. The report intends to provide possible solutions by suggesting a more conservation-oriented approach to development, while encouraging private citizens to appreciate the connection between water, recreation and, ultimately, economics. Water problems will only escalate until those who can begin to address them thoughtfully, Miller argues, because “there’s no way to adjust by making more water.”