Image courtesy of Olaf via flickr
We've been banging the drums about the looming water crisis in the western U.S. for a while now. A series of record-setting heat waves and droughts over the last few summers only presages what are likely to become more frequent, intractable water shortages in coming decades. Perhaps fittingly, a new report funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called "Warming West," has confirmed some of these concerns, finding that the U.S. West has been heating up much more rapidly than the rest of the world.Analyzing temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for 11 states, the authors, part of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO), recorded average temperature rises in the Colorado River Basin that were 2.2°F warmer than the historical average for the 20th century - or more than twice the global average rise of 1°F for the same period. If these trends continue, that will spell especially bad news for southwestern cities, particularly those in Arizona and New Mexico, which have been growing at a fast clip and have already suffered through some of the region's worst droughts.
As study author Stephen Saunders points out, the droughts have dealt the region a heavy economic blow, depriving it of over $2.7 billion in crop revenues and revenues from recreational activities, such as fishing, hunting and skiing. Unfortunately, the situation is likely to get worse before it improves climate scientists predict: as the effects of global warming become more pronounced, the West will lose most of its current water supplies, in the form of snowpacks, and experience increased evaporation.