This week's New York Times Magazine featured a fascinating cover story by Jon Gertner calling attention to the burgeoning problems that accompany fears of a growing water crisis in Western states. One running theme in the article is the impact that climate change has in exacerbating the situation:
This coming spring, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue a report identifying areas of the world most at risk of droughts and floods as the earth warms...[which] will note that many problem zones are located within the United States, including California (where the Sierra Nevada snowpack is threatened) and the Colorado River basin. These assessments follow on the heels of a number of recent studies that analyze mountain snowpack and future Colorado River flows. Almost without exception, recent climate models envision reductions that range from the modest to the catastrophic by the second half of this century. One study in particular, by Martin Hoerling and Jon Eischeid, suggests the region is already “past peak water,” a milestone that means the river’s water supply will now forever trend downward.
Much of the article deals with the efforts by water management officials in the Denver-area city of Aurora, Colorado. While that state is currently moving toward adopting California's clean emissions standards (an effort that is increasingly gaining local support) it is worth highlighting, in light of the growing urgency attached to the issue, that key state leaders have weighted in to help preserve that option:
Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, and state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Jefferson County, supported California’s application for a waiver from federal standards in written testimony they submitted to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson last May.
“While Colorado has yet to pass a similar Clean Cars program,” Romanoff wrote, “we want to protect our right to set strong air quality standards if we choose.”
Readers should further note that the Colorado Basin is not the only region where concerns over water threaten to enflame interstate legal battles. Intrigue over water supplies might be good for lawyers and for aspiring Hollywood screenwriters, but we're wagering that the overall impact will only add to state officials' incentives for taking the lead in mitigating global warming.