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University of Colorado researchers are closely watching how the composition of snowpack is changing in the Rocky Mountains and what happens when it melts faster than in previous years. They’re measuring the amount of nitrogen from human activity that has been deposited via the atmosphere into alpine streams.
Environmental groups like the Wilderness Society are watching these changes unfold, as well. “Either there’s less snow melt or it’s melting earlier or a combination of the two, which is the worst option,” explained communications manager Neil Shader.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is preparing for a state that climate change models show will warm 4 degrees by 2050. This means, among other challenges, that clean water resources will become more precious than ever. You can see the projects underway at the CWCB website. One study is looking at the availability of water from the Colorado River and how the state can best manage that critical resource.
The need for water and the pressures of climate change present a challenging question for a state that already allows thousands of oil and gas wells, even on some public lands. Today’s advanced hydraulic fracturing for natural gas famously uses millions of gallons of water resources and pollutes that water in the process. The Wilderness Society’s Shader explained that while some drilling might be okay, it might be problematic at least in some cases, “The idea of allowing some oil and gas drilling is going to mean some farms don’t have irrigation water or a city doesn’t have enough clean drinking water.”
In a recent article on its website, the Wilderness Society worded even more strongly its concerns about oil and gas drilling’s effects on both Colorado’s water and air. The article notes, “Irresponsible oil and gas development not only pollutes our air and water, it damages the ecosystems that make up our wildlands as well.” Colorado citizens have been speaking up about their concerns.
Changes in air, water, snowpacks and entire ecosystems mean unprecedented challenges to the Centennial state with its famous columbine flowers and greenback cutthroat trout. The signs around 11,000 feet in the alpine tundra warn hikers to tread lightly, “restoration area” it says, “stay on the trail.” If only it were still that simple to preserve the West’s precious water resources.