August 08, 2006

One Consequence of Global Warming: Water Wars

The Salt Lake Tribune is running a series on what are the potential effects of Global Warming on Utah this week. Today's topic is that Global Warming will affect how the Southwest deals with water. They say that there isn't much concensus on what will happen to the southwest climate as the world grows warmer. One problem they discuss is although they know the future weather will be different, they don't know exactly how it will be different. Some think there might be more rain and other think there might be less. With snowpacks lessening changing the time that water flows through the river system, it becomes more important to capture the runoff which could mean more dams.

One thing they do know is that already scare water will become a greater problem in an area where more and more people have come to live.

One thing is for sure, though. The politics of water, already rough, are going to get even rougher. Especially if the resources are more scarce and states wind up pitted against each other. The Colorado River Compact tying together the seven basin states - Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California - has been in existence since 1922. It may not make it through the next century.

Says USU professor Schmidt: "Utah has nodes of dense population with tentacles of supply lines that bring water and electricity. If water gets scarce, what happens to the nerve center - the Wasatch Front - and those supply lines? Utah will be competing against other people for the same thing. And in that context, how do we compete against states like Arizona and California that are economic powerhouses?"

A sneak preview may be going on right now on the Utah-Nevada border, where the Southern Nevada Water Authority is planning to take groundwater out of aquifers under the state line and pipe it to Las Vegas - an action the district has been forced to take because it has essentially exhausted its allotment of Colorado River water. Ranchers and environmentalists on both sides of the line are fighting the Southern Nevada plan and threats have been issued both at the state and congressional levels.

However, Colorado River water managers believe they have gotten an early handle on the climate change issue with a drought management agreement that was negotiated by the seven basin states earlier this year. Though not global warming-specific, they maintain it represents a head start.

But Richard Ingebretson, founder of the Glen Canyon Institute, says it probably won't make much difference in the long run.

"Global warming is happening now. And it is so horribly affecting the Colorado River that they're going to have to renegotiate the whole [Colorado Compact]," he says. "The drought management agreement is just a prelude to many, many changes.

Yup, viable water will be more precious than oil in the coming days.

Posted by Mary at August 8, 2006 07:31 AM | Environment | Technorati links |


The High Country News frequently covers water and water related issues in the west. In the June 28 issue they included a short story called The Tamarisk Hunter wherein "desert Southwest of 2030, Big Daddy Drought runs the show, California claims all the water ... ."

Posted by: gail at August 8, 2006 11:20 AM