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National Climate Assessment says snow in the Colorado River basin will decrease 24% by 2050

By Alex Hager/KUNC
Published: Thursday, November 16, 2023 - 9:04am
Updated: Tuesday, November 21, 2023 - 10:41am

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Heavy snow in Snowmass Colorado ski area
Alex Hager/KUNC
A skier cruises down Snowmass ski area, where January 2023 brought heavy snow to the mountains that supply the majority of the Colorado River's water.

The fifth National Climate Assessment shows how human-caused climate change will continue to shrink the Colorado River. The report says annual snow totals will decrease 24% by the year 2050.

That means people will have to adapt.

“If we don't have a lot of snow, in any given winter, or over a 5- or 10- year stretch, where and how can we shift to some of these behaviors that ensure everybody has enough, even if it's not as much as we used to have?” said Heidi Seltzer, a professor of environment at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

The report also warns that the nation’s groundwater is at risk. Hotter temperatures mean that underground aquifers are recharging more slowly, harming the water supply for one in three Americans

It goes on to highlight the impact of climate change on native tribes. In the Southwest, indigenous people often experience the first and worst effects of the region’s shrinking water supply.

“And I think a little distinction from prior reports was recognizing the climate justice component, which is very much in our basin, that with our frontline communities, and indigenous populations being part of the frontline communities experiencing the first and worst impacts of climate change,” said University of California Irvine water law professor Heather Tanana, who worked on the study.

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