Water Symposium Asks What Prolonged Drought Means for Southwest Colorado – Durango Herald


170 people heard from water experts, professors and tribal leaders

More than 100 people heard from water managers and climate experts on drought and water plans at the Southwest Water Reserve Symposium in Durango on Friday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The doom and gloom of drought and the ray of hope during the annual Southwest Water Reserve Symposium in Durango on Friday.

120 people attended the seminar at the DoubleTree Hotel to a full house and another 50 listened online.

Water managers, researchers, university professors, climatologists and representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes presented presentations and participated in panel discussions on water shortages in southwestern Colorado.

The past 30 years have been drier than the previous two 30-year periods in southwestern Colorado, where temperatures have been warming since the 1930s, said Becky Bolinger, an assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University.

Drier times are worse, wet times are less favorable, snow seasons are shorter, runoff comes earlier, monsoons are less reliable, and a drier atmosphere dries soil faster, she said.

Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, speaks Friday at the Southwest Water Reserve Water Symposium at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Forecasts show that “temperatures in the area are likely to be above average and likely to be drier than average,” said Rob Genualdi, Division 7 engineer with the Colorado Department of Water Resources.

For example, the 1980s, like the early 1900s, were wetter than usual.

Heidi Steltzer, a professor of environment and sustainability at Lewisburg College, said water managers have learned that snowfall in March and April is critical to increasing snow cover and meeting supply goals.

Water managers cannot rely on early snowfall, even if it is above average. With more dust on the snow, the darker layer accelerates the evaporation of the snow, further reducing the water supply.

Steltzer said the drought brought more dust to the atmosphere, giving locals the unique experience of “raining into mud.”

Human behaviour needs to change to adapt to the realities of climate change and diminishing water resources, she said.

“We know the choices to make, but we don’t make them,” Steltzer said.

A variety of treatments are needed to create “spaces where we know ourselves and learn to practice” to accommodate projections of future water reductions.

She implored attendees to keep “social water equity” in mind.

“Look at who has the least and give – not territorialism,” she said.

The afternoon sessions included “100 Years of the Colorado River Compact” and “Balancing the Conservation and Use of Natural Resources.”

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