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'This is frightening'

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  • npat1
    This is frightening By PHIL WHITE Star-Tribune correspondent Friday, October 06, 2006 LARAMIE -- Recent drought and climatic warming, whether natural or
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 9, 2006
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      'This is frightening'
      Star-Tribune correspondent Friday, October 06, 2006

      LARAMIE -- Recent drought and climatic warming, whether natural or
      human-caused, are having significant effects on Wyoming�s water
      supplies, the deputy state engineer said at a water conference at the
      University of Wyoming Thursday.

      Harry LaBonde said the drought has forced his office to restrict water
      use on some streams that have not been regulated in many years, if
      ever, and to enforce restrictions sooner in the season.

      He said that only unusual precipitation in the Colorado River�s lower
      basin avoided a "call" upon the upper basin states in 2005 pursuant to
      the Colorado River Compact, which allocated certain amounts of water
      to each of the states along the Green and Colorado rivers. LaBonde
      said that Lake Powell in southern Utah, which stores water to meet
      demands of the downstream states, was at only 38 percent of capacity
      in 2004, down from 94 percent in 1999.

      Mike Besson, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission,
      said Wyoming should expect to see 30 percent less water in the not-too-
      distant future.
      �This is frightening,� he said. �We will have to reduce our use.�

      One way to do that, he said, is to substitute wind-generated electric
      power for coal-fired generation, which requires large amounts of water
      for cooling. Besson also mentioned a system used in Arizona where
      water is spread over alluvial layers and soaks in, returning to the
      system later.

      He said groundwater will become a more important source of water as
      the climate changes. �The next big hurdle will be quantifying the
      groundwater," he said.

      Several speakers said the higher temperatures being experienced in
      recent years have caused an earlier runoff of mountain snowpack, which
      means less water is available during crucial parts of the growing
      season. Besson said the water has been coming off about 35 percent
      sooner than historic levels.

      He also said the state needs to move forward with reservoirs to retain
      more water in the state, especially in the Green River Basin. He said
      his office began evaluating 24 opportunities for dams in 2000 and has
      identified two proposals as the most promising for increased storage
      in the Ham�s Fork drainage of the Green River: raising the Viva
      Naughton dam and placing a new dam in the Dempsey Basin.

      State climatologist Steve Gray said Wyoming is the fifth-driest state
      in the nation, averaging only 6 or 7 inches of precipitation per year
      in the basins of the southwest quarter. Wyoming is in the seventh or
      eighth year of a severe drought, he said, which has exposed the
      vulnerabilities of the state�s water supply.

      �The majority of the water comes from a single source, mountain
      snowpack,� Gray said, �and the mountains comprise only about 7 percent
      of the state�s land area.�

      Gray said scientists agree that global warming is at least in part due
      to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and

      �If we continue with business as usual,� he said, �scientists predict
      that temperatures will rise up to 6 degrees Celsius.�

      Very small changes in average annual temperatures can have large
      effects on water use in Wyoming, he said.

      Noting that some scientists predict increased precipitation in Wyoming
      from the temperature increase, Gray warned that the increase in
      evaporation from a rise of only 2 degrees in temperature would offset
      a 15 to 20 percent increase in precipitation. That kind of warming, he
      said, would cause more of the state�s precipitation to come in the
      form of rain instead of snow, further reducing the storage effect of

      Gray said tree ring studies of streamflow in the Colorado River show
      huge fluctuations over the past 1,100 years. However, the levels of
      precipitation enjoyed by that drainage in the 20th century, before the
      onset of the drought, were far above the historic means, he said.

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