Working to keep the West special

RMCO's Water Preparedness Programs

RMCO works not just to reduce emissions of heat-trapping pollution but also to prepare for and adapt to the changes that may occur in the interior West anyway. Much of that work has always focused on the interior West's greatest vulnerability to a changed climate -- the impacts of a hotter and drier climate on this region's already-scarce water resources -- and what can be done to meet the region's growing water needs in the face of that challenge.

Our Colorado Climate Project differed from efforts in other states to use a broadly representative stakeholder panel to address climate change in two ways. First, our effort was initiated and carried out by a private nonprofit group, not by a state government. Also, though, our effort focused heavily on adaptation -- in particular on water adaptation. With a broadly representative Water Adaptation Policy Work Group doing the initial work, our Climate Action Panel developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for actions to address climate change effects on Colorado water resources. Those recommendations amount to the first overall outline in any interior western state of how to go about addressing those effects and preparing to meet water needs in a different future.

Now as we seek action on all the recommendations that came out of our Climate Action Panel, we are working through a Water Initiative Steering Committee to seek adoption of the water-adaptation recommendations of the panel. Our primary focus is to get climate change considered in all relevant water planning and management actions -- and, when it is considered, to see that climate change effects are properly addressed.

One success so far has been helping to bring about an initial state government report on climate change impacts on water supply, in partial fulfillment of one panel recommendation.

Through our Water Initiative, we also pulled together an impressive coalition of signers including the Colorado State Climatologist and officials of Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, among others, who joined RMCO in submitting testimony to congressional appropriations committees in support of increased funding for key climate/water data collection systems. Strengthening those data systems to meet the state's and region's needs in a changed future was another panel recommendation. See the separate testimony to the House Apppropriations Committee's Interior and Agriculture subcommittees.

In our Water Initiative, we also are working to develop a consensus set of recommendations from the different organizations engaged in our initiative on the ways in which climate change is to be considered in a Colorado River Water Conservation Board study of future water availability in the Colorado River. The consideration of climate change in that study was one of the water-adaptation recommendations of our Climate Action Panel. As part of that effort, RMCO in July 2010 submitted joint comments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on its draft Colorado River Water Availability Study Phase I, on behalf of RMCO and some of the participants in our Water Adaptation Steering Committee -- representatives of Aurora Water, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water, and the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. RMCO also submitted our own separate comments.

Among our other water efforts have been two of RMCO's four reports that focus heavily on the impacts of climate disruption on the interior West's water resources. The most recent of those reports is Hotter and Drier: The West's Changed Climate, a RMCO-Natural Resources Defense Council report, released in March 2008. See also a summary of that report, the news release announcing it, a copy of key figures from the report, and a PowerPoint slide of those figures. The figures and slide may be used freely, so long as credit is given. Our other report focused on water is Less Snow, Less Water: Climate Disruption in the West, a RMCO-Clear the Air report, released in September 2005.