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West Coast warned of warming woes

 Olympics Moutain Range
Scientists predict that an increase in winter precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. As a result, less water will be stored in the snow pack.  

November 12, 1999
Web posted at: 5:08 p.m. EST (2208 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

Warm, wet winters and dry, hot summers over the next century are predicted to wreak havoc on West Coast water supplies, according to two recently released studies on the impact a few degree rise in temperature over that period of time.

The reports, one focused on California and the other on the Pacific Northwest, predict that an increase in winter precipitation will fall mostly as rain rather than snow. As a result, less water will be stored in the snow pack.

With less water stored in the snow pack, there will be less water available for the dry summer months. This will lead to worsened drought conditions, greater irrigation needs and other water-use conflicts.

Global climate

Less water stored in the snow pack also means more water will run off immediately, adding to winter flooding and landslide problems. Flood controls and levees in coastal areas would be increasingly challenged, requiring additional management.

"There will be too much water at the wrong time and too little when we need it," said John Melack a co-author of the California report from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

To help mitigate these problems, the Pacific Northwest report, conducted by the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington in Seattle, recommends the development of new storage facilities, the introduction of a water market system that determines water prices and a regional water management database.

Flodded Town
Less water stored in the snow pack means more water will runoff immediately and increase winter flooding.  

"Research about possible future climate change is useless unless institutions actually use the results to guide long-range planning," said Philip Mote, a University of Washington research scientist and lead author of the Pacific Northwest report.

Global warming will also cause ecosystems to shift north and upward to more suitable habits. In order to prevent the loss of vital ecosystems, the California report advocates limits on development and the creation of nature reserves on land and coastal waters to make ecosystems less isolated.

"Isolation increases the vulnerability of these communities in the face of even modest climate changes, because it limits the ability of species to persist in place or to migrate in response to shifting conditions," the authors write in the report's Executive Summary.

While most scientists agree that Earth is in a state of global warming, there are certain steps humans can take to help stabilize the climate, such as reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. Californians alone emit 400 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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