Climate-change experts warn water suppliers to be aware, vigilant

Forum for regional water providers in Auburn attracts more than 100
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A panel of experts on climate changes warned area water purveyors to be aware and vigilant as data continues to signal a global warming trend.

The panel was assembled by the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association and the Association of California Water Agencies. It included Glen MacDonald, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

The focus of MacDonald’s research is climatic and environmental change – and the impact of such changes on ecosystems and humans.

MacDonald’s message on climate change was to the point.

“I want to dispel any rumors that this is not a reality,” MacDonald said. “This is a reality, folks.”

MacDonald ran through atmospheric and scientific studies illustrating that areas of the nation – particularly the Southwest – have joined many parts of the world in experiencing drought conditions.

“Folks, there’s a pattern developing,” MacDonald said. “There’s something going on. Observational data shows much of the nation has warmed up – with a big bull’s eye on the Southwest.”

MacDonald said that all the warming can’t necessarily be attributed to greenhouse gases and the knowledge base is still imperfect.

He pointed to the years 900 to 1200, when the Earth had warmer than normal temperatures and the cooled off into a “little Ice Age.”

MacDonald said that the ancient warming period could partly be due to the “energetic sun” of sunspot activity and that ability for the sun’s rays to penetrate through to the Earth’s surface.

“There is every reason to think that conditions could return and it could be now,” he said.

Michael Dettinger, a U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist speaking as a research associate with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, said that while Northern California is more uncertain, Southern California and much of the Colorado basin are the focus of predominantly declining precipitation projections.

Precipitation extremes are expected to rise, flood risks may increase, but drought risks will increase, he stated.

Michael Anderson, state climatologist for California, said that water suppliers “really have to know their watershed” as warming trends continue. Each area has its own shapes and structures, he said. Questions regarding runoff levels and snowpack retention will play out differently when temperatures increase, he said.

“You still have time to strategize so you have options later on,” Anderson said.

John Kingsbury, Mountain Counties executive director, said Friday’s forum at The Ridge drew 101 people. It was an excellent opportunity for members to learn more about climate change, he said.

“It’s something in Northern California that we really need to focus on in regard to our water supply for our region,” Kingsbury said. “I think this gives our members a good perspective on what the trends are showing and it also opens our eyes to looking at opportunities where we can kind of plan for the future.”

One risk is not to do anything, Kingsbury said.

“We need to take a look at that in terms of what opportunities we have to secure a reliable water supply for our future,” Kingsbury said.