Saturday, October 27, 2007

Recent study shows Rio Grande water is in danger

El Defensor Chieftain (New Mexico): A recent study presented at a press conference in Albuquerque shows that if there aren't changes made, by 2080, the Rio Grande Valley will have much less water than the area will need. The finding of a study done by University of New Mexico professor Julie Coonrod and New Mexico State University assistant professor Brian Hurd were released at a news conference in Albuquerque on Oct. 23. This study found that residents and agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley would suffer from a significant loss of water. Riverside ecosystems are also likely to suffer.

…The researchers used models of Earth's climate over the next century done for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body of scientists studying the problem. "Hopefully the study will result in water managers looking at new methods of conservation and new sources of water like desalination plants," said Coonrod.

Data from studies of tree rings, for example, shows cycles of drought and flood as well as periods of cooling and warming. If these cycles continue into the future, with or without human intervention, the valley is destined for an overall warming trend. Water shortages in New Mexico and throughout the arid southwest are likely to experience disruptions in water supplies in the future climate changes. Even if future climate changes produce more rainfall, the study shows that evaporation on the river will still be a problem.

The study uses three climate change scenarios across two future time periods. The researchers used the possibilities of more rain, less rain or about the same amount of rain with the increased temperatures in 2030 and in 2080. In each case, the Rio Grande shrank because temperatures caused the water to evaporate more. Studies showed that by 2080, the driest predictions showed a 29 percent drop. The best or wettest case showed a drop of only 8 percent.

…"I think most New Mexican's don't want the nature of the valley to change," Coonrod said. "Plans need to be started now to keep that from happening." The report estimates total annual economic losses of about $300 million. In the worst case, if the state does into a drought as the temperatures increase, both economic and non-economic losses are likely to be significantly higher.

…Hurd suggested a very possible future of significantly less water and at the same time significantly more people. The research findings suggest that New Mexico's social, economic, and environmental systems are highly vulnerable to changes and disruptions to water supplies potentially caused by climate change. The need is highlighted for water users, communities, organizations, and institutions in New Mexico at every level and in every sector to begin considering possible adaptive strategies for making better use of their water resources.

The complete study can be found on the Internet at

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